by: Dr. Joel B. Santos

Social Organization and Customs

      The T’boli Tribe traditionally lives in a scattered settlements in the highlands of southwestern Mindanao in the province of South Cotabato. The settlements are usually scattered but are composed of family clusters of fifteen households or more. Each settlement has a ceremonial house called a gono bong (big house). Members of the communities are usually related by kinship. The head of each grouping is a datu. Extended families are common in households that operate as the economic social unit.  Their tradition dictates that the power of the father should not be arbitrarily exercised and that his word is absolute only in major decisions.  Marriages are prearranged by the parents and may be contracted at any age, even immediately after the child’s birth. 

Religious Beliefs and Practices

      The Tboli’s supreme deities are a married couple, Kadaw La Sambad, the sun god, and Bulon La Mogoaw, the moon goddess. They reside in the seventh heaven. They beget seven sons and daughters who end up marrying each other.  The T’boli tribesmen also believe in busao (malevolent spirits) which wreak havoc on the lives of human beings, thus causing misfortune and illness. Desu or propitiatory offerings of onuk bukay (white chicken) or sedu (pig) are made to placate or gain favors from these evil spirits. T’boli rites are normally presided over by a morally upright elder who is familiar with the T’boli tradition. Often enough, the datu himself presides over the affair. 
     To the T’boli, all objects house a spirit. They continually strive to gain the good graces of these spirits by offering them little gifts. Before crossing a river, for example, they may throw a ring. If spirits or gods need to be appeased, the T’boli make desu or offerings, which may consist of cooked food, the agong, and the kafilan (sword). The T’boli afterlife has several destinations. Murder victims and warriors slain in battle go to a place called kayong, where everything is red. Entry into kayong is announced by the sound of agong, klintang, hagalong (guitar), and dwegey (violin). Thunder and lightning during a burial signify a spirit’s entry into kayong. Suicides go to kumawing, where everything sways and swings. Victims of drowning become citizens of the sea. Those who die of an illness go to Mogol, where day is night and night is day. 

The PMF T’boli Ministry

     The PMF T’boli ministry started in 1985 in Polonuling, South Cotabato by Rev. Mariano Detorio and his family. He was born and raised in the island of Leyte and was called by the Lord to start his tribal ministry with the T’boli tribe.  He started to reach out the highlanders through Bible studies and outreach program. The ministry became successful and many tribal people believed in the Triune God.  He was able to train and educate the potential leaders to become missionaries so that they could serve their own people.  After seventeen years of hard work for the Lord, today there are 5 couple T’boli missionaries and 13 volunteers ministering to their own tribe.  Now there are 24 churches and 2 outreaches planted in the highlands of Polonuling which are scattered in Mt. Malibato and Mt. Parker.  The place is about 2,000 feet above sea level and about 16 kilometers away from the lowlands.  Most of the workers are not receiving anything from the Mission due to lack of funds.  Despite of poverty, still they are serving the Lord to reach their tribe for the Gospel.
      Once a month, missionaries would gather together to strengthen their spiritual life and to comfort and revive them from their struggles in the ministry.  To be able to have a successful meeting/fellowship, some missionaries with little support are sacrificially sharing small amount to other volunteers.

The PMF T’boli Dormitory

     It is typical for the T’boli tribes that their children are illiterate.  Going to school is out of their culture.  Nevertheless, the government knows their educational needs.  Actually, the government has a program in providing free education in the highlands.  However, the problem is--the place is not accessible. Further, the peace and order problem has aggravated the situation due to the presence of bandits. Teachers who are sent by the government do not come regularly so the education it provides is very unsatisfactory and low in quality.  In such case, those parents who have strong desire to educate their children and are capable of supporting them, send their children to the lowlands to avail quality education.  But it is very rare for the native parents to do this because their source of income is not stable and cannot sustain the education of the children.  There are thousands of children from these native families who can never avail of quality education.
    One program of the T’boli missionaries is to assist these native families in educating their children.  They have envisioned to build a dormitory for the tribal children in the lowland near the school, so that they will have a place to live in while studying.  The plan was granted by the Lord. Some committed brethren from Partners International (Australia) provided the lot and building for the project. The building can accommodate 100 children. Presently, 67 children are staying in the dormitory.  Last March 2002, 4 students graduated from High School and 9 pupils from elementary. 
      Partners International-Australia has also provided one hectare of agricultural upland to supply their food requirement.  They cultivate this field for rice, corn and pineapple products which are prominent in this place.  But there are times that they harvest very little because of the irregularity and non-occurrence of rain. 
At present there are 2 T’boli young people who have finished college education and are now teaching in their place and 2 vocational course graduates who are now working and helping the tribal students.

The Present T’boli Needs

· Presently, not a single donor/sponsor assists the native children in their education.  Although there is an available dorm where they can stay for free but the problem of the parents is their food.  The average parents are capable of providing only 3 meals per week for each student causing the students to be absent or eventually drop out from school.   Thousands of children from the highlands are not in school today. 
· Subsistence allowance for T’boli volunteer missionaries who do not receive any allowance from the Mission. 
· The building needs a water pump and installation materials.  Their monthly bill of water is around P800.00 and no source of fund. 
· In order for the project to become more useful and beneficial to the tribal children, the T’boli dorm administrators are planning to convert the place to an orphanage.  They will look for sponsors who will provide meals of the children and the workers of PMF will be the ones to provide adequate education and spiritual program for them.

Ministry Opportunities

      Most of the students staying in the dormitory are required to attend the spiritual training designed for them.  Most of them have accepted the Lord and some were spiritually revived in the dorm. Jinky Ugal once said in her testimony, “I understand now that I need to accept Jesus in my life as my personal Lord and Savior.  I supposed that continual attendance in worship services is enough.”  Students who are spiritually trained in the dormitory become useful in their own church during weekends.  They could speak in the prayer meetings, hold Bible studies, give special numbers, lead the church service and various church programs.  The students are also required to attend church services in their own church as their Christian education requirement every weekend.
      The dorm also serves as a Bible school during weekends.  There are already 21 students in the Bible school who benefited the dorm, 8 have already graduated while the rest are still undergoing the training program.

Wanted Ministry Partners

      The T’boli administrators are now appealing to the Christian brethren whose heart are open to serve and want to become partners in reaching these needy individuals and families for Christ.  They believe that helping them is a great opportunity for ministry.  Jesus once told his disciples and the people around him, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me…whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Mat. 25:40,45). 
     Anyone who wants to become part of this kingdom ministry is highly appreciated. 
     And may God bless you for caring!

     Give your support for the T’boli ministry in the following channels:

       Philippine Missionary Fellowship, Inc. 
       P.O. Box 3284 Manila 
       Tel/Fax No.  931-0064    

       Rev. David Cohen
       National Director 
       CNEC/Partners International
        Sydney, Australia