To celebrate this unique process of cultural transmission, we share with you the story of Kuya Joel and his journey in becoming a Tau Temwel and co-founder of Sesotunawa. This narrative is a translated version of what he shared during one of our capability building/mentoring sessions in Lake Sebu.
Growing up, the gono lumubon (foundry) was my playground. I would spend most of my days observing Ye (Mother) and the way she skillfully rolls and shapes the linulid (wax) into different forms and figures. She allowed me to play with the clay that was used to create the mold for the wax models.
I learned the rest from my Ma (father) who would ask me to help fan the lubon (hearth) and keep the heat steady when it was time to melt the metal scraps. Back then, we had to use a bamboo blower to manually fan the hearth (the process is called lumubon) and the process normally took 4 to 6 hours to completely melt the metals, so my siblings and I took turns in doing it. When the demand for brass products was high, we would continue working past bedtime, burning the midnight oil to beat the production deadline.
This was how I learned the art of Temwel (brass-casting). I was 6 years old.
Life was simple back then. Most of the food that we ate came from our backyard garden. Our meal was usually composed of boiled cassava, taro, or sweet potato. During the harvest season, we could enjoy a humble feast of upland rice from the small field that my parents maintained for our family’s consumption.
To have access to other food essentials, we would sell or swa (barter) our brass-cast products for salt, sugar, coffee, canned goods, and sometimes, fish from the nearby lakeside communities. Ye and I would take an hour’s hike to the center of the town to meet our relatives and exchange our goods for food and sometimes, money.
My parents understood the value of formal education. So even when we did not have enough resources, my Ye sent me to the nearby elementary school to study. Every day, I would pack my pencil and a few sheets of paper inside a net bag, and then walk my way to school to attend class. I only had one pair of slippers, which I had to take good care of, so I always had to remove it if I had to walk on a muddy to make it last longer.
School was difficult. Our teachers taught us to read the alphabet and count in numbers that were not familiar to me. If we failed to recite the alphabet, most of our teachers would make us stand in front of the class until the end of the period, which discouraged me from going to school. I always skipped class to play and climb trees with my friends.
My Ye was furious when she eventually found out. She forced me to go back to school, but I did not want to. Ye might have understood because she asked me to help in the gono lumubon and encouraged me to continue learning temwel. She said, “If you do not want to go to school, you would have to master temwel, so at least you know something. And maybe in the future, you have will have something to do to provide for your family.”
Since then, I spent more time in the gono lumubon, learning temwel from my parents. First it was only tenoyong (small bells) but it wasn’t long enough until I started rolling my own linulid, creating my own wax figures, and finally mastering the art and becoming a tau temwel myself.
Looking back, I can only be grateful to that moment when Ye told me how important Temwel is to us. Now that I am a parent myself, I am happy to honor that moment by passing on the knowledge to my children, the way that she generously shared it to me and my siblings.