A Heartening Homestay Experience in Lake Sebu

The night capped the surroundings black and we were still inside an old transport van traveling to Lake Sebu, willing to do a long-time plan to stay in an indigenous Tboli house. It’s a choice to stay out of touristy resorts and the sites the scenic town is famous for.

The Tboli children sharing their stories through music
Lake Sebu, the center of eco-cultural tourism in Allah Valley,  is known for its seven waterfalls, the zip lines, homey resorts, the three lakes and the exotic Tilapia fish. Our noisy ship was the 14-seater van was packed with 21 people, has a sliding door that won’t lock and a broken air-conditioning system. We were uncomfortably seated at the “extension” seat behind the driver, fronting all the other passengers, just to spend the night at the Tboli house of School of Living Traditions (SLT).

Ms. Maria “Oyog” Todi, a Tboli cultural worker who has traveled the world to tell their stories, runs the SLT in Sitio Lambanig in Barangay Poblacion. Nomads who want a more enriching experience and wander out of the beaten trails of Lake Sebu are welcome to stay in the Tboli house for a homestay experience. Researchers, artists and backpackers from all over the globe would stay in the house even for months for the experience.
Ate Mayang Todi telling her stories and struggles in establishing the SLT
Serenading the night away with a Hegalong
The indigenous Tboli people, said to be of Indo-Malayan origin, inhabit Lake Sebu in the uplands of South Cotabato province. Cultural and lifestyle change has been inevitable among the locals with the arrival of non-Mindanaoan settlers since the early part of 1930s. “Progress” as defined by the outsiders set in. The SLT was established to preserve the local culture by establishing an informal learning center where children and adults alike can learn about traditional music and dance, native arts and crafts.

Ate Maria’s nephews and children welcomed us as we arrive in chockfull backpacks and high spirits. The children knew how to treat their visitors. My wife Kai had fun conversing with them in Ilongo dialect. T’boli and Ilonggo are the major dialects spoken in Lake Sebu, both comprising 95.5% of the population.
Happy Apps for the happy children

Once you learn how these beads were made you'll surely get some for yourself to keep

Beads made from recycled plastics and styros.
We spent the early part of the night interacting with the children who demonstrated to us how the colorful native bracelets are made from tiny beads produced from recycled plastics and seeds of some indigenous trees. The children serenaded us with a Hegalong, a two-stringed instrument played with a dance. Hegalong is played as accompaniment for songs and dances and is carved from local woods.

The Tbolis play traditional musical instruments as a hobby and it is said to soothe the mind. The children sampled us with Lemlunay, a song about a paradise, a place that is becoming more and more impossible as modernization attempts to overtake the local culture.
good morning birthday greetings from the Tboli children

a cell of indigenous knowledge
We also met in the long house two of the bearers of Tboli traditions: Ye Barang Ofong, one of the few remaining Tboli elders esteemed for her T’nalak weavings, and; Ye Luming Faan, a bead-making artisan who produces colorful beads from recycled Styrofoam and plastics.

The Tboli house that stands on top of a small hill is Ate Mayang’s SLT’s second longhouse after the first was toppled down by strong wind in 2012. Travelers and private groups and individuals led by writer Edgar Allan of eazytraveler.com helped for the construction of the new long house by organizing an online fund-raising drive in the same year. Ate Mayang would not miss mentioning Allan’s name and the things he did for the SLT to her visitors.

It was a good night’s sleep on bamboo flooring in a partition reserved for us inside the long house. A horse’s nicker greeted us with good morning. “Perhaps the roosters were absent”, Kai quipped enjoying the rural setting.

The children loved surprises! They gifted us with bracelets and necklaces before we slept. The following morning three of them surprised me with freshly-cut stems of bird-of-paradise flowers and greeted me a happy birthday.
Ye Barang, one of Lake Sebu's revered dreamweaver

It is also a sanctuary
Outside the long house, the placid Lake with blooming pink lotuses is a refreshing view. The morning sun lit the terrace area where the rest of the children, 12 of them to be exact, also mingled with us. Priceless!
Definitely, we're going back to spend more time with our newfound Tboli friends.
Ate Mayang’s Tboli house is indeed a home for local culture and traditional crafts. It was not built to give full comfort to the visitors but to offer an authentic experience of the local culture not available in the plush rooms and fenced compounds of tidy resorts. After all, it won’t hurt to forego comfort and the company of fellow tourist for an enriching experience with the tribal folks.

As Kai puts it, it’s a learning and heartening experience minus the crowd of tourists. []


SLT Schedule during Saturdays:

Activities: Traditional music and dance lessons

Cultural Awareness, Hands on Arts and Crafts

8:00-12:00 NOON – Children ( Kem Nga)

1:00- 3:00pm - In and out of school Youth

Professionals and Adults ( Kem Tuha)


An overnight stay with traditional Tboli breakfast costs P200. I think that’s a measly amount for the experience. You may opt to add more to help maintain the SLT.

If you want to experience or witness traditional dances and cultural presentations, book in advance so they can prepare. Performance fees will go to the maintenance of the house and the presenters.

For details and bookings, contact Maria Todi at phone numbers: 09066345367 or 09129764041.

How to get there:

Lake Sebu is two hours away from General Santos City where an international airport is located.

From the airport, ride a multicab (P50) or taxi (P300) to Bulaong integrated terminal.

Ride a Yellow Bus to Koronadal City (P83) and transfer to another bus heading to Surallah (P24). The bus stops at Surallah Integrated Terminal.

From the terminal ride a van (P24) to Lake Sebu. Tell the driver to drop you at Greenbox Restaurant. The Tboli House is adjacent to the restaurant.

If you’re coming from Davao City, ride a Yellow Bus heading to Gen. Santos. The bus stops at Bualong Terminal too.

Transportation around Lake Sebu is thru a skylab, a single motorcycle with extensions for more passengers. Fare starts at P8 to P30 depending on the destination. Fare matrixes are posted around the establishments. There’s one in SLT.


  1. Well this is the first time to read a post na gave time to be with the tribe .. Nice

    1. thanks, sir. It's a different experience worth telling din, i guess. punta ka din.
      thanks for dropping by.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...