Note : This article was published in the first edition of LAWIG. On March 2021, LAWIG was re-launched underlining photography and design talents from the provinces of the Philippines.
Generations of sheer labor and determination molded the talibong to become more than just a souvenir item. To its producers, these are blades of purpose and intent. To the people of Libacao, it is a symbol of heritage and tradition. To anyone who wields it, the talibong is a weapon poised for protection.
One of the earliest utilizations of the talibong is said to have occurred during World War II, when a legendary group of Libacaonons armed with talibong and spears, revolted and attacked the Japanese military garrison in Banga, Aklan; an exhibition of patriotism during the Spanish rule. Dionesio Teodosio retells this story “Bollo Batallion of Libacao” in flyers attached to the swords he trades. Within forty years of being in the business, he is now part of the narrative on the talibong of Aklan. Dionisio is one of the few known in the area.
“Hay minana ko ra sa akon nga lolo ( I inherited this craft from my grandfather ),” Dionesio remembers the business as a family heirloom. “Kay lolo, kay tatay, ag makaron hay iya eon kakon ( From grandfather, to my father and then I took over ).” Day and night, he works on the whole process of crafting the blades with a series of burning, cutting, and pounding the raw metal from molle or car leaf spring. “Sang adlaw o sobra mahuman ro sambilog [ka talibong] ( It takes a day or more for a sword to be finished ). ”
“Una anay hay initon mo ( First, you have to heat the metal leaf spring ), ” he instructs. He then removes the molle from the fire and starts to hammer it until it takes shape and to the desired length and width. Known as pag-paeogo, these steps are done alternately and repeatedly, ultimately forging the blade to its purpose. It is followed by pag-himpit, a series of techniques in refining the surface and thinning of the metal.
Once the heat of the blade has decreases, the painstaking task of smoothing is done through pag-kuskus using a metal file or grinder. Finally, it undergoes pag-subo, a procedure that strengthen the durability of the blade’s cutting edge. The number of talibong that Dionesio makes in a day depends on the cut and length of the blade, which sometimes can extend up to twenty inches.
The craft has been the source of livelihood for the family. “Basta mahugod ka eang, may kitaon ka ( As long as you are diligent, you will earn ),” Dionesio states. He hopes that through the business, he can continue to send his children to school until they finish college.
Norma Teodosio, Dionesio’s wife, remembers clients from all over the country who appreciated the quality of the craftsmanship. These include high-ranking uniformed officials, collectors, and politicians.
When prompted about the saying Ginaeagnat ro talibong kung indi makaeabo ( The sword becomes corroded if unable to cut ) and if the swords he creates embody the legends, Dionesio gave a mischievous laugh. “Kung magpa-obra ka abi karun, ag ro imong purpose hay bukon it pang display, kaeabanan hay tawo gid a ro ginatigan-an mo. Indi mo basta-basta magamit ron sa ibang bagay ( Once people request for a talibong to be made, and if they have a certain purpose for the blade aside from being a token or display, then it is especially intended for other use ) .”
He also believes that the story of the talibong consciously communicating to its owner when it feels the need nga makeabo ( to cut ) is a hearsay passed around to generations out of pure fascination and is not entirely true. Or perhaps, that is just what Dionesio chooses to tell people.
At times, Dionesio feels alone in the feat. He wishes that someone would learn the skills and carry the tradition on. “May mga gin engganyo man ako, galing uwa man it puydi. Ro may mga hatapusan abi ngara hay bukon man it interisado, syempre ro anda mata hay andang tinapusan ( I tried to train younger apprentices, but it all failed as they were not as committed. Those who have finished college would rather pursue fancier jobs, no one seems interested anymore ).”
Photographs by Harold Quisumbing Sarabia, Words by Sheena Angelique Zante
Harold Quisumbing Sarabia is a native of Numancia, Aklan. He likes to showcase the local colors of his province in his works. His photos have appeared in international online magazine Fuzz Magazine and other local publications. Harold hopes to have his first solo exhibit in the first quarter of 2021.
Sheena Angelique Zante is a multi-faceted Akeanon creative. She dabbles on regional filmmaking, multimedia content production, writing and entrepreneurship. She aims to showcase Aklan’s culture, arts and tradition through her works.