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Davao, where each sunrise paints the sky in hues of promise and adventure. Davao del Sur, standing as the 4th most populous among the five provinces and highly urbanized city in the Davao Region, is a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups. Within the province, communities of B´laans, Bagobos, Manobos, and Tagacaolos coexist, weaving a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions.

Our compass pointed south to the El’lom Foundation on the land of the Bagobo Klata community, where we met Kessia Tar, Naven Bato, and Fely Pandian. The chapters of the Bagobo Klata’s story unfolded, revealing vibrant tales, cultural rediscoveries, and the rhythmic beats that echo the heartbeat of a tribe as they search for the last authentic talanaw’wo, or weaver.

Kessia Tar
Hiyas ng Kadayawan 2014

Engr. Naven Bato
Youth Leader

Fely Pandian
Weaver, Granddaughter of Apo Rita


In the quiet corners of Baguio District, the Bagobo Klata tribe once danced with the forests. Originally called the forest dwellers, the Klata’s ancestral lands whisper secrets that time almost erased. Kessia Tar and Naven Bato shared tales of struggle and triumph as the tribe’s cultural architects.

“Sa una man gud, kami nga tribo, diminishing tribe na gyud mi,” (Since long ago, our tribe has been considered a diminishing tribe), Kessia reflects. She said that their ancestors chose western education over heritage, and slowly, their identity faded. They weren’t even familiar with their own dances and music, and there even came a time that Bagobo Klata children would get embarrassed about their culture. 

Driven by a determination to reclaim their roots, Kessia, Naven, and their fellow Bagobo Klata youth, established the El’lom Foundation in 2012. “Unya ang among mga kaninu-nunoan is datu diri, which is a leader. Unya wala napasa sa amoa ang tradition.” (Our ancestors were once warriors and leaders of this land, but our traditions were fading.) “We wanted to change that,” Naven said. The youth and elders united, bringing forth a cultural renaissance through parades, fun runs, and the revival of their tribal attire. “It was about instilling pride in our culture again,” Kessia shares. The transformation was profound—children began openly identifying as Bagobo Klata, donning their tribal attire with pride.


Apo Rita Agon

With their goal of reclaiming their roots also comes the hunt for the last authentic weaver, known as Talanaw’wo. Kessia and Ven’s group were able to meet so many elders who were already more than 90 years old, but they were also struggling to preserve their traditions. Then they talked to Ate Fely Pandian, who told them that her grandmother, who used to live in their own backyard, was a talanaw’wo. From there, they travelled farther, taking them to Magpet, Cotabato, where they found Apo Rita, Ate Fely’s grandmother and a Bagobo Klata who married an Ovu Manuvu in the area. 

“Amoa syang gi tap nga kung pwede ka namo ma duolan Apo, nga among ma kuan imong skills, nga ma share nato sa mga kabatanunan, ma share nimo sa mga kababainhan, kay aron ma transfer nato, ug dili na sya mamatay,” (We asked her if she could help us, and share her skills to our youth, to the women, so that it can be transferred and not fade.) Kessia recounts. ” She didn’t know us personally, yet without hesitation, she agreed to teach us,” Kessia adds.


Ate Fely, the torchbearer of Bagobo Klata’s weaving tradition, stepped into the spotlight at the age of forty-one. Raised by Apo Rita Agon, Ate Fely’s story is one of reluctance and triumph. “Akong lola man gud, syay nagbuhi sa akoa,” (My grandmother raised me.) said Ate Fely. She also said that even though Apo Rita was recognized by NGOs, she never pushed them to learn weaving. Apo Rita lived through an era where the naw’wo was not just fabric but woven storyteller. A vivid tradition suppressed by the weight of time, Apo Rita’s reluctance to pass on the art mirrored a generational hesitation to embrace their roots. “We weren’t taught to become weavers by our grandmother before because my grandmother was busy working to earn income,” Ate Fely recalls. The necessity of income overshadowed the significance of cultural inheritance, causing a gradual erosion of their identity.

Gladly, Apo Rita came back, but her health had declined, and the urgency to pass on her skills intensified. She constantly reminded the community that she was already old and that she was slowly getting weaker. “Mao tong ingon ko sa akong huna-huna nga bitaw no kay kung dili ko mag kuan gyud magtrabaho ani, kinsa may musunod?,” (I told myself, if I don’t work on this, who will take this on?) Ate Fely confesses. Her journey from novice to proficient weaver mirrored El’lom’s purpose—preserving their history and culture.

El’lom Foundation


As the loom of time weaves through the rich tapestry of Bagobo Klata tradition, the threads of heritage find their way from the nimble hands of Apo Rita Agon to the determined fingers of Ate Fely Pandian. Ate Fely revealed to us some of Apo Rita’s teachings. 

Apo Rita held within her the wisdom of a bygone era. She used to say, “Kani man gung maghabi sa kwarto lang ka ba, dili pwede makit-an sa daghang tao, ingon niya.” (The act of weaving must be done inside a room, and must not be seen by many people, Apo Rita once confided).

Apo Rita also emphasized that before you weave, follow the design you’ve envisioned in your head. Designs are not taught; they are made. The intrinsic connection between the weaver’s imagination and the vibrant designs mirrored the deeply personal nature of the craft.

Ate Fely also reflected on the profound patience and mindfulness required in the process. She said that she makes sure that she is in the mood when she weaves, or else the thread will break, revealing the emotional resonance embedded in each woven masterpiece. The naw’wo, with its earthy tones of brown and maroon, spoke the language of Bagobo Klata culture, bearing witness to an unbroken tradition that endured trials and neglect.


With each intricate design and patient stroke, Ate Fely expresses a fervent hope for the next generation. Kessia and the El’lom Foundation, envision a sustainable future where Ate Fely’s artistry could flourish without compromise. 

In the vibrant hues of Bagobo Klata textiles, we found not just an art form but a resilient community. The naw’wo became a silent storyteller, weaving tales of unity, cultural rebirth, and the unwavering spirit of the Bagobo Klata—a tribe determined to let their colors shine once more.

The Montero Sport, a reliable companion on our journey, effortlessly navigated the diverse landscapes of Davao del Sur, ensuring we reached the heart of Bagobo Klata territory. With its robust performance, it played a pivotal role in our expedition, empowering us to unveil the cultural tapestry of this vibrant tribe through our encounters at the El’lom Foundation.

The Montero Sport, a reliable companion on our journey, effortlessly navigated the diverse landscapes of Davao del Sur, ensuring we reached the heart of Bagobo Klata territory. With its robust performance, it played a pivotal role in our expedition, empowering us to unveil the cultural tapestry of this vibrant tribe through our encounters at the El’lom Foundation.