Culture & Artisans

The art of Temwel (brass-casting) is a tradition handed over from one generation to another. A Tau Temwel (brass-caster) spends most of his time crafting accessories and homeware while making sure the Fu (spirits) bless him with good yield. 

The art of Temwell

Tboli brass jewellery is one of many Indigenous art forms that tell the vibrant story of the Tboli peoples of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. The indigenous Tboli community of Lake Sebu is distinguished by their vibrant traditional attire and intricate brass adornments. Largely untouched by the Western world, the Tboli people for centuries have lived off the land and used traditional brass making methods to create stunning metals.

Temwel begins with material gathering. Traditionally and historically, the Tau Temwel gets his brass from broken gongs he traded with other ethnolinguistic groups from neighbouring towns. These days, the Tau Temwel keeps his brass and other metal upcycling tradition by combing junk shops and buying whatever he can use. Apart from the metals, clay is also dug and mixed with ash and rice husk for molding. Beeswax, which can also be substituted with other types of wax is used for modeling designs. 

The artisans

Around the tranquil waters of Lake Sebu are pockets of communities where indigenous art still thrives. The art of brass-casting, beading, and weaving still exist because of the Tboli families who continuously work together to keep these traditions alive. The kebeng (hearth) is still fired up and the metals are still melted in the Blunto household.

Coming from a long line of Tau Temwel (brass-casters), Joel Blunto works alongside his wife Henia, who also learned the art through his family. Armed with their dream to manage their own business and help other households in the community, they created the first Sesotunawa brass items. Inspired by this vision, people outside Lake Sebu started to come together to share this dream, which also encouraged other artisans in Lake Sebu to become a part of the growing community of culture movers.

Today, their artisan community has grown to a total of 9 Tau Temwel and 2 beaders.

The craft

For each piece, Tboli artisans start with beeswax and form it into their desired design. Clay is formed around the beeswax to create a mold, then dried in the sun. Recycled church bells and other materials sourced from neighbouring communities are melted down over an open flame and poured into the mould. Once dried, the clay mould is cracked open to reveal the brass jewellery inside. Brass making not only provides sustainable livelihoods for the Tboli people but helps preserve this age-old craft for generations to come.