High up in the mountains in Brgy Tasiman is an Ubo long house overlooking Lake Sebu. The host is an unassuming fellow named Ma Fil Angkoy (half T’boli and half Ubo), but you’ll realize why Ma Fil (or Mafil) is popular in Lake Sebu once you put a hegalong (or hegelung), a 2 string ethic guitar, on his hands.
Ma Fil welcomed us to his humble home one chilly evening. We came at a late notice but he was happy to see us. He is always eager to welcome folks (European tourists would somehow find their way to his doorstep) who would like to experience his unique brand of hospitality.
The whole family was there to meet us. Some of the kids, Ma Fil’s nephews and nieces, eyed us with curiosity. A friend improvised a game, asking each kid’s name and trying to recall it later. The group would break into peals of laughter when he would somehow mix up the names, which I honestly think he did on purpose.
The tribal house was spartan but spacious. The floor is made of bamboo; there are no rooms or divisions. Everyone sleeps on the floor, no beds or mattresses, just the simple banig (woven mat) or malong to keep the cold out. At the center of the house is a fireplace with an earthen base. While dinner is being prepared, Ma Fil entertained us with a few songs.
The Ubos and the T’bolis are a spiritual tribe and believe on the spirits that dwell on trees and rivers and lakes, as well as the spirits of their ancestors. Coexistence with nature is highly ingrained in their culture. Ma Fil sang a song that told the story of a woodpecker who went down to the lowlands but later decided to come back to the mountains because that’s where he belonged. He also sang songs about love and courtship, and this went on well into the night. He would always explain what the song meant.
Soon sleep beckoned, and it’s hard not to heed its call when you are being lulled by the twangs and drone of the two-string hegalong.
I woke up early the next day and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. Ma Fil was up early too and was already making coffee by the time we headed back to the long house. He was already wearing a T’nalak vest and “tubaw” (traditional woven head wrap).
Ma Fil’s daughter Sarah and his sister Luniza Dalinog soon joined us, dressed in full T’boli traditional wear. Small brass bells dangling from their belts (“hilet”) chimed like falling rain whenever they walk.
What followed after breakfast was one of the most amazing performances I’ve seen. We were treated to tribal dances like the courtship dance (madal temelek), monkey dance (madal iwas), and flirting dance (madal semgewit). Ma Fil showed what he can really do with a hegalong.
I went back to town that morning, after we said our goodbyes and promised to come back as often as we can, with a new resolve: to show whenever I can that there is more to the “Lake Sebu experience” than just the lake side resorts and the endless variations of tilapia dishes. The T’boli and Ubo culture is rich in art: they have beautiful songs and dances, they have their T’nalak weaving, inspired by their dreams. They have artisans that make amazing brass artwork. If you have been to Lake Sebu already, rediscover it the next time you are there.
I often get questions about home stay accommodations in Lake Sebu. There aren’t many, but this is the one that offers a truly authentic Lake Sebu experience.