Find us on Google+ Love Mindanao: Badjao Village and the Quest for the Southern ‘Tepo’

Badjao Village and the Quest for the Southern ‘Tepo’






Shopping for souvenirs  isn't my favorite activity in my travels except when crafts were really out of ordinary worth hanging on my wall. For me, the priceless experience in a certain community is enough to suffice my longing to see different cultures and traditions. But everything changed when I set foot in the farthest Philippine province in the south, Tawi Tawi, where I had literally chased for a souvenir that is being crafted by women of  a certain  indigenous group, the Badjao.

I know that the 'ancient' Western Mindanao is full of different tribes and each tribe has their own unique identity differentiated by their dialects, arts and craftsmanship.

Landed in Bongao, Tawi Tawi, I have learned from a local about the one of a kind of art being made by the underrated community of Badjao.

I have only heard of the ethnic group Badjao through textbooks and  have mostly often seen them in the streets of the metro during the month of December  during Christmas holidays begging for coins from the busy motorists.


Badjaos are  landless indigenous community as they live literally on stilt houses and on wooden boats, fishing out in the open sea. Through time, some groups have settled in stilt houses in coastal areas where fish are abundant.

Seek and you will find...

Accompanied by a local friend, we rode to Badjao Village, five minutes away from the town proper of Bongao. The first scenario that have stricken my eyes was the numerous and populated stilt houses on the coastal water and lots and lots of children playing along the shore. Badjaos are known for poor sanitation with their garbage just being thrown at the nearby coast or maybe cumulative waste of the nearby communities as well.

It wasn't my first time to walk over a wooden bridge, but that was the first time I have felt I was being stalked –by dozen curious Badjao children! To give in on their wondering eyes on what I had on my hands, I asked them to pose for pictures and they happily obliged.

Most of the children wear no clothes on and  were soaked in the sea water all the time and exposed  directly under the rays of sunlight, giving them a caramel like skin tone and colored hair.  The children's  laughter were so authentic capturing their images on the screen of my camera and obviously they have not been exposed much to such kind of apparatus, making them more curious on what I was doing in their territory.


Witnessing their lifestyle in their assembled wooden planks of houses standing over the coastal water, I have confirmed that this indigenous people are one of the best swimmers and divers in the country if not in the world, only unofficially recognized.

At their very young age, the sea had been their playground and for the many, it has been their life. I have felt a little awkward and out of place due to my modern "get up". I sensed a little pity for them, seeing the life condition of the community which is a complete opposite compared to the life we have in the modern city .But I guess that is their way of life, their culture and tradition and I have no right to comment or suggest  to change it.

Badjao's Tepo: the Under Rated Craft

Unfamiliar with the working dialect known as Sinama , I allowed my companion to do the talking and translation. We asked the locals where we can find a ‘tepo’, an authentic Badjao weaved mat. They directed us towards the inner part of seemed like maze  of  stilt houses.

The Badjao mat is very much popular in the region yet scarce in terms of distribution. This mat requires at least a month of painstaking work to finish a three yard piece.  The mat is made out from a particular dwarf Pandanus species that grow abundantly in the limestone coast of Tawi Tawi.

We have ‘raided’ houses that were known to have been making the mat and it took us a while before we spotted one. The one we saw was still unfinished and from the way it looked, the weaving was really intricate and I was amused that the woman was working on a piece with no guided pattern.

The Secret is on the Myth

According to the myth, the pattern appears in their dreams that serve as guide for them to create a master piece of  crafted tepo, thus every move of their hands is spontaneous, making the process unpredictable to the curious eyes of observing visitors.

In addition to this, the weaving women abstain from having sex, not to tarnish the tattooed pattern in their mind.   The output was a masterpiece with a  unique and colorful pattern that you won’t find anywhere in the Philippines other than in Tawi Tawi.


And the search is over!

Based on what I have witnessed in Badjao Village, it is indisputable to say that the people of Badjao are naturally born artist ! Each mat costs 1500-2500 pesos depending on size and design. If I will consider the artistry and amount of  effort  put on the craft, the master pieces are very much undervalued.

If you are looking for the finest mat ever made and willing to throw in some little extra cash, you have to find yourself to Ungos Matata, Tandubas, Tawi Tawi and locate the household of Haja Amina Appi- a Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee by the National Commission on Arts and Culture in 2005 for her mastery in making colorful mats.

37 comments :

  1. I envy you for having experiences all of these. That is something you can't replace with the technology and modernization in the urban city. That is another real drama of life in the outskirts of the country. How I wish I could also experience the same and meet our brothers and sisters in the south. Kudos to you my friend.

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks mam shie ... i bet that moment will come that you will be able to set foot here in Mindanao :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. LM.....hands down.....thank you for continuously telling the untold story of Tawi-Tawi in your own creative way. Reading your blogs about my home awakens my desire to do more to promote Tawi-Tawi in the best way I could.Let me just add, the most intricate mat design in Tawi-Tawi or perhaps even in the country are those of Hja. Amina Appi....a bit expensive I should say but it's all worth it.....believe me...you wont even think twice spending...:)

    ReplyDelete
  4. pang awards night/FAMAS ang mga kuha Love Baler/Love Luzon aka Love Mindanao :) lols. seriously napakalayo ng image ng Tawi tawi sa kung ano ang totoo. U got the best shots of Tawi tawi here. Galing!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Jeffrey .. ang traveling morion kung maka comment Wagas..yes Tawi TAwi is really a fascinating place. There is something in the air that makes me feel at home ... cguro Badjao ako in my previous life.. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. ralph marcuss ManarangJanuary 18, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    Kuya may tanong lang ako. Bat yung matatanda dito saamin pag makulit ang bata ang sinasabi nila "hala ka, kukunin ka ng badjao" nangunguha ba talaga sila?

    ReplyDelete
  7. hahaha .. wala pong katotohanan un.. they are just misunderstood people .. :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love this post. Very Pinoy! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Excellent post! pang National Geographic. Keep them coming bro.

    ReplyDelete
  10. it's truly admirable how these people are so creative and they are really part of our heritage. so sad their welfare and preservation is not part of our government plans. I know weaving it so olden days, but nothing beats the hand made design - and how they come up with those patterns... :) some kind of a talent passed from one generation to the next...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Truly amazing. I must admit that I am really envious while reading your post. I so love it. I want to go to that pace and experience their culture. :) Ang ganda! :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Their crafts and textiles are really nice and unique. This is definitely a nice souvenir.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This souvenir should be framed to preserve its colors. How much does one cost?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Badjao communities have simple life yet they look contented and that is important.

    ReplyDelete
  15. you mentioned poor sanitation... if that is the case then those children in the picture shouldn't be swimming in the water... they'll get sick unless of course their bodies are already immune to it...

    ReplyDelete
  16. That weave mat looks really colorful, and the design is artistic. The Bajao people looks peaceful and have simple way of living.

    ReplyDelete
  17. That mat has labor of love written all over it. I hope the art of making "Tepo" won't go to oblivion. How much is it?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Rochkirstin SantosJanuary 19, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    I only learned about Badjaos in our social civic subject in elementary. I didn't know that this population still exists to date.

    ReplyDelete
  19. the common done ranges from 1500-2500 depending on sizes and design .... if you see it personally , youll say the craft was undervalued ... it is being sold by middle men threefolds in the city...

    ReplyDelete
  20. ranges from 1500-2500 coming from the regular badjaos ... really under valued ... from the national artist ranges from 5000-10000 a piece three months work of weaving ...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Christy Anne MadridJanuary 19, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    weaving of mat without machine is very persistent. this is a great souvenir! like what you said "this master piece are very much undervalued".

    ReplyDelete
  22. helo jeffrey....im just struck with your comment....I am wondering kung ano po ung image ng Tawi-Tawi sa kung ano ang totoo?

    Sadly, whatever negative impression Tawi-Tawi has to most Filipinos especially those in Luzon is brought about by the negativism tagged to Basilan or Sulu...but thank you so much for this comment...this actually serve as a wake-up call for us Tawi-Tawians to do more in telling the whole world how peaceful, beautiful and interesting our place and our culture is....hope you can visit Tawi-Tawi one day...:) PALANJAL KAM NI TAWI-TAWI (WELCOME TO TAWI-TAWI)

    ReplyDelete
  23. wow the place looks like somwehre i've been to in thailand! your photos are amazing! xx

    ReplyDelete
  24. Wow, you've really captured the artistry and hard work the Badjaos pour out to make the tepos. I don't know a lot about Badjaos but I'd love to get the opportunity to immerse in their culture some day. And yes, I'd definitely buy a piece or two when I see their well-crafted tepo!

    ReplyDelete
  25. A compelling article and photos. I learned a lot here about Badjaos compared to our history books where tribes are just a footnote.

    ReplyDelete
  26. handmade crafts of the Badjao tribe are truly amazing, I hope there will come a time that it will be known to the world or just be given acknowledgement nationwide :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. they are really awesome.. I really love their craftsmanship and their weaves are just so cool! I love how their designs vary and it's just so eyecatching..

    ReplyDelete
  28. Badjao are really part of our history.They are one of the talended community in the Philippines

    ReplyDelete
  29. There is a group of Badjao here in our province and they are really unhygienic. They usually beg for money. The government has plans of building a resettlement area for them, free houses and all, but I wonder if that would really be of help to them since they are used to living in the streets. They don't want to be educated too. Hmm.


    Anyway, I agree that the "tepo" is undervalued there, considering that it takes a month or so to finish one.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hi Love! Interesting travel find! I also noticed, "According to the myth, the pattern appears in their dreams that serve as guide for them to create a master piece of crafted tepo" and the sexual abstinence - these way of living and culture is very similar to our natives in our province in South Cotabato , the T'boli people. I wonder if they are somewhat related. ^^,

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hope the government can provide neccessary help for them, anyway your shots selection are really epic!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Badjao's have rich culture. I wonder why the government doesn't support these people. Palagi ko na lang sila nakikita sa mga lungsod. Kung hindi lumalaboy, nalilimos


    These people should be prioritized and given enough support and attention. And IMHO, these folks if well supported, could contribute a lot in our heritage, and in our society

    ReplyDelete
  33. hi roj ...cguro nga they have the same method, differs only in interpretation...the T'boli has their unique patterns as well and very recognizable ,,,

    ReplyDelete
  34. sometimes we have to unravel the truth through actual encounter or else it will just be part of a spec of imagination :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. Badjaos has been known for their craftsmanship. I can still remember when I was younger that one of our laborer was a badjao. He was one of the best rattan furniture maker we ever had.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Seek and you will find..
    In some respects, I'm more like you in obtaining souvenirs.
    Though I must say I am most guilty of buying the Kentucky Printed sando's that I can find anywhere.
    Long had I forgone buying keychains and ref magnets that are actually bought enmasse from the big city factories.


    I wouldlike to have a go with that Tepo..
    sounds to me like a colorful and intricate banig.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I was once a Stage Manager to a play called Dream Weavers,
    it was toured in Pan-ay Island, and was funded by NCCA.
    The play is about 3 women of Sakada heritage who weaves their life story and dreams in a tapestry.
    Each to her own, I could say that you've met the real life "Dream Weavers"

    ReplyDelete