“I’ve been creating brass items since I was a kid, and somewhere along the line, I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living,” says 37-year-old T’boli native Joel Blunto as he shapes rolled-out beeswax into a bracelet.
P10,000: Price of the most expensive single item he sold, about S$266
The T’boli people of Lake Sebu, about a four-hour drive from Davao City, have longstanding brass-casting traditions. Before modernisation crept into the province, brass items were highly valuable, used as dowry for marriage or barter transactions. Over the years, however, many middlemen have bought T’boli brass in bulk and erased the makers from the story. Today, a bracelet is priced at only P30 (S$0.80).
2: Number of days it takes to make a single bracelet or ring
This is exactly what Blunto hopes to change. With help from a friend, Davao-based Karl Sandino Lozano, Blunto has founded Sesotunawa, a community-led enterprise composed of T’boli brass smiths from Lake Sebu and volunteers from nearby Davao City. Sesotunawa sells a variety of brass crafts online – from bracelets and rings to home décor items such as bells and windchimes – with designs inspired by nature.
After shaping designs in beeswax, Blunto builds a clay mould around the designs, leaving a spout for the melted brass. Once the clay has hardened, he pours the liquid metal into the mould, allowing the brass to take shape. He then pounds gently at the mould to get the finished product. The final step is to clean and polish each item.
15: Height in inches of the bell Blunto made for a Catholic church, one of his largest creations
In February 2019, Sesotunawa opened a display shop in Lake Sebu, where you can browse the entire collection of brass products. “It’s not easy to peg these items at a higher price because people here are used to it being so cheap,” Blunto shares. “But through Sesotunawa and Karl, I’m learning how to price these items better and how the online world can widen our market.”
This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of Silkwinds magazine