The Tboli : A Repatriation Story of Collective Kindness

Melchie Belleza (far right) with other Tboli women.Lake Sebu, April 17, 2023.

By Marian Pastor Roces

Just this year, Cristina received a phone call from a Billie Riley, a British national nearly 70. She lived a couple of years in Lake Sebu among the Tboli, in the 1970s.

Billie was trying to find a way to revisit Lake Sebu. And to return home, after 40-some years, a significant number of Tboli articles she collected then.

As it happens, we had already planned a digital repatriation trip beginning with Lake Sebu and the Tbolis. We are reconnecting museum collections with origin communities by bringing photographs into discussions with elders.

Last year, we had already linked Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago) pieces with the Blaan of Sarangani. The director of the Chicago museum was and remains quite supportive.

Billie and her personal collection traveled with us. Another British long term visitor of the 1970s  sent his collection with Billie.

I persuaded Cristina and Billie to entrust these collections to Benjie Manuel, Tboli public school teacher—whom I have seen through decades create Tboli content for grade school; and supervise these Tboli children so well, that they have been  absorbed into the public education system.

For 10 years, Benjie and 2 other Tboli teachers were given their monthly salaries by Marlene Po and some of her classmates from the Ateneo de Manila. This sustained assistance had allowed for the flourishing of Benjie’s work.

On April 17th, 2023, in a simple ceremony sponsored by SOAS, Billie handed over the collections to Benjie. She also conveyed her personal stories of relation with each object.

None of us could hold back our tears.

We held each other and wept.

The collections will become the core antiques around which Benjie and friends will create educational modules for children.

The modules will concentrate attention on complex description— avoiding oversimplification and trivialization.

A small structure will be built by Tboli carpenters and Marlene Po stepped forward to fund half the cost.

The name of this space will be Gónô Tmutul. The place of stories.


To read a detailed documentation of the process of repatriation - both the material and the digital, read Celito Terando's process report here. 

Tboli Tagabawa-Klata Community Knowledge Co-Creation Workshop

Clip from the short film "Gónô Tmutul: Building a House of Stories"

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