Isla de Mabanlas: A Family of Artists


BALINGASAG, Misamis Oriental — Francesca Salim, 46, and the rest of her family are not known for their surnames – a usual scenario in small towns in the country. Their family, instead, is more known now for their collective name, Isla de Mabanlas.

Isla de Mabanlas, which literally means ‘the unsinkable island,’ is a portion of Barangay Talusan that is never flooded despite the heavy rains. This is where the Salims live and, obviously, where they drew out their name five years ago, not only to represent where they came from but also their dreams in life, which like the island, would never sink.

“We are peasants,” Francesca told Bulatlat in a mix of Filipino and Visayan language, “We plant string beans, eggplants and bananas.” But because of their difficulties in making both ends meet, Francesca and her husband Crispin decided to set up with a small business: crafting native accessories such as wooden necklaces, bracelets, among others.

Crispin learned this craft from his ancestors, the indigenous peoples from Bukidnon known as the Talaandigs. Francesca said the art of making native accessories is not that unique among her husband’s relatives in Bukidnon, considering that it is part of their culture. “But it is for Balingasag and we wanted to share it with them,” she said.

“We do not have a preference as to the type of wood to use as raw material (referring to Narra or Mahogany which are usually preferred by those making crafts). We just get any kind of wood available, especially in the morning after a heavy rain,” Francesca said, adding that since no piece of wood is identical, all their crafts are unique.

Francesca also found other creative means to earn more for their family. She also creates accessories from plastic bags, which most people throw away. “I crochet plastic bags to make coin purses, shoulder bags, cellphone pouches, centerpieces, among others,” she said, “They are very durable.”

Soil Painting and Dancing

Another talent that the family is sharing not only to the people of Balingasag but also to the whole country is the art of ‘soil painting.’ This is Francesca’s 21-year-old son Cristopher’s forte. She showed to Bulatlat her son’s three by two feet painting, that uses soil as a medium instead of acrylic paint.

Francesca said her son had to go to various places in their village or nearby villages to find the right hue for the painting. “Only this March, Tope (Cristopher) had dengue fever because he has been everywhere to search for good soil to use for his painting,” she said.

Most of Cristopher’s paintings depict nature and religious icons. It would normally take a day to finish a painting, though it may also vary depending on how difficult the image that Cristopher is painting. For instance, Francesca said it took Cristopher three days to complete his painting of the municipality pier in Balingasag.

To ensure that the quality of the painting would not deteriorate over time, a thin layer of glue is applied over the painting after the soil is fully dried. The extra-layer of glue does not only provide protection but also a fine and glossy finish.

Mary Cris, 8, poses for a photo with the three by two feet soil painting by her brother Cristopher. Mary Cris is wearing a traditional Talaandig clothing. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao /

The Isla de Mabanlas is not only invited to participate in various agricultural fairs in the province but also to perform. Francesca’s children Frank Cris, 23, and Juliet Francesca, 20, were first taught by their paternal grandmother a tribal dance of the Talaandigs. They are, however, currently working in their respective professions. But they were able to teach their younger siblings to dance.

Frank taught Cristopher Paul, 11 and Juliet taught Mary Cris, 8, how to play drums and dance to its beat, respectively.

Francesca said her two children are invited to many provincial and municipal government sponsored events to perform such as in Salu Tabo, a quarterly agro-fair, and Kaamulan, a gathering of ethnic groups in Bukidnon every March.

Francesca told Bulatlat that she is happy that the Isla de Mabanlas is being recognized for their arts and talents. And with this, she said, the Isla de Mabanlas would continue to dream, and their dreams, Francesca said, would never, ever sink. (

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4 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. christian paul nulo salem

    maayo unta mag padayon og makig bisog salamat sa inyo


  2. How nice to know that somebody was highly appreciated the works of Topi. Keep a good works and God bless.

  3. Good day,

    Thank you so much for post. I am Cristopher Nulo Salem
    from islademabanlas. A Enigmata artist, Painter, Craftsman, Assistant Project Curator, Music and Arts Workshop Facilitator for the Local Children, Masseur, Chief cook, Musicians (Self-Taught Percussionist)


  4. Very nice post from Bulalat We will following this web.
    An online Market for Various arts and craft from Mindanao Philippines.

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