The Mothers and Women of Sesotunawa


After the lubon's fires have gone and only a few bits of ember are left, Henia works on a table by the brass furnace, rolling dark strips of wax with the wooden ogot lulid and kefal. Henia is a tau temwel, a brass smith of Lake Sebu. She learned her trade from her husband Joel Blunto, who comes from generations of tau temwel. Joel had learned his trade from his mother, who learned hers from her family from a village of tau temwel in one of the hills of Lake Sebu. Gender does not matter with how the trade is learned and passed on. Men and women can learn it. A mother can pass the trade on to her son, and the husband can pass it on to his wife. In a tau temwel household, the members of a family, from the children to the elders, have their helping hands working on every aspect of the brass production, from making the wax models to refining the details of the brass products with files, sand paper, or an electric grinder. Henia feels her round tummy with her free hand. She is only a month shy from giving birth to her fourth child. She continues rolling the strips of wax that will make the wax mold for brass bracelets. She already has a pile on one side of her kefal. She has to make more, knowing that in about a month after she gives birth, she has to take time off from working. The rhythm of her arms pushing and pulling on the ogot lulid, creates a soft grinding sound between wax and wood, that hums into a lullaby. The embers crumble and turn to ash; the skies turn tar-like like the tar-blackened wax she rolls. Henia turns on the LED bulb, and continues to roll wax late into the night. Someday, when her baby grows into a child with hands strong enough to hold things, she will let him hold the ogot lulid; she will let him play with the wax.


Myda sits on a stool carrying the newborn son of her brother Joel and her sister-in-law Henia. She is in her brother Jimboy’s brass workshop, chatting with her other siblings, as some of them are also working, melting junk metal in the lubon. Out in the distance, Lake Sebu's waters grow a darker green with the reflection of the hill's lush flora. She looks at her sleeping nephew, wrapped in her malong. She rocks him gently. He is now the youngest of the Blunto, a family known for their lineage of tau temwel. Myda's youngest son used to be the youngest among all Blunto scions at one point, and sometimes she would think about how her son or her other children would take on their family's trade. As children, she and her siblings have taken on roles in their family's trade. Now as a mother, she had come to realize how being a tau temwel gave her pride. But what of their sons and daughters? And will she make new brassworks this time? She stands up with Joel Junior in her arms, walks towards the view of Lake Sebu, and says, “Sunod nako mag-temwel.” There is a time for temwel. There is time.


Janeth sits on her family's bamboo bed in their wooden house on the other side of the hill from the Bluntos. She is left in their house with her baby daughter who is sleeping soundly in her malong duyan. Her husband is out in the lake, feeding the tilapias in their fishing pens. Her other children are in school. The TV beside her bed blares with action from a Filipino movie. But Janeth does not watch. Instead, she listens as she hunches over hundreds of tiny blue and gold glass beads on a plate placed on a small working table set over her legs. Her eyes are watching her hands. In her left hand, she holds a half-finished glass bead earring with a long black thread that runs to her right hand, which holds the other end with the needle. Deftly, she slips the tip of the needle in the tiny bead holes, and strings the beads in a geometric pattern. A little klung, a shield, is emerging in Janeth's hands. She hears cries erupting from the malong duyan hanging in front of her. Her right foot's big toe twitches, as the black string tied to it and to the bamboo stick, from which the fabric crib hangs, stirs with movement. Her baby daughter has woken. Janeth lulls her back to sleep by tugging at the black string with her right foot. The tension and release created by the movement of Janeth’s foot on the black string tied to the bamboo stick brings the crib up and down. In a few minutes, her daughter’s cries turn to coos, until she’s quiet. All this while, Janeth continues to thread the beads in her hands, her eyes never leaving them. When she finishes a few pairs of the klung earrings, she strings them together and puts them aside. She lifts her small working table from her lap and sets it down beside her. She pulls her right foot towards her and unties the black string on her right foot's big toe. She crawls towards the malong duyan quietly and lifts the flap. She watches her daughter sleep.


Kunay lays down pairs of beaded earrings on a piece of white bond paper. She counts them. She has made almost two dozens in a month. At 24, she is the fastest beader among the Sesotunawa beaders. She lives in another hill a motorcycle ride away from the Bluntos. Twice or thrice a month, she comes to the Blunto's hill to deliver the beaded earrings she has made or she visits her friend. Janeth, another beader living on the other hill across the Bluntos. Sometimes, she brings her beading materials when she visits Janeth so they can bead together. It was Janeth that encouraged her to bead for Sesotunawa. Kunay has been beading since she was a child, but never had she been more motivated to bead more than when she joined Sesotunawa. She saw how Janeth's products developed in quality. “Mas nami,” Kunay says. More beautiful. She also saw how Janeth earned more from selling her products with Sesotunawa. As she counts the beaded earrings in front of her, Kunay talks about her family's house that she wants to finish building, and about helping her husband in funding their children's education. She smiles when she talks about how her husband supports her current endeavor with Sesotunawa. She says he listens to her stories about her work. “Mas nami. (Looks more beautiful.)”
Words and photos by Angeli Chi