By Ramon Jorge Sarabosing
In the middle 90’s, there were two things I was proud of-reaching the peak of Mt. Apo (years before) and visiting Marawi City not once but thrice in a row.
I realized some of my friends went to college at the Mindanao State University and it fascinated me because of the many stories told, both disturbing and curios, and I thought one day I am going there to experience it.
So when an opportunity came, I thought of myself as late-bloomer because all my friends who studied there had left and worked elsewhere.
Frankly, I felt excitement and dread but I kept telling myself there are far more worth discovering in strange, unknown lands than dwelling (on the negative side of the news). I was determined to go.
So straight I went to the MSU campus, high above Marawi. It was a cloudy day and in the afternoon, upon arrival, thick fog started to envelope the campus.
It was beautiful and serene and I joined theater artists of Mindanao huddled together for a workshop hosted by the Sining Kambayoka Ensemble, the resident theater company of MSU.
It was the start of my engagement to the Maranao culture and it made me awed.
The next day, we toured the campus, highlighted with the visit to the university museum and the rolling hillside park affectionately called the “golf course.” Students sat in groups under a tree-a picture of easy college life and perhaps much more.
When it was announced we will descend to the city proper for a cultural tour, I knew that was it! I was convinced it won’t be a complete visit if I won’t come close or touch ground to the city of the Maranaos.
I ended up gasping as we traversed around the city. It was apparent there was contrast–small houses, shanties and stores lining up, punctuated by mosques with the background of imposing private mansions.
Maranao arts and crafts are sold everywhere, it was hard to resist not buying them. Clearly, I observed, Marawi’s unlike any other city in the country. There is a touch of authenticity.
Then we headed to the Lake (Lanao) village where we saw the Torogan.
In case you don’t know, the Torogan is the ancient Maranao royalty house considered the oldest in the country. It’s architecture is indigenous Malay and original.
To many, you haven’t been to Marawi if you haven’t set foot on this historic icon.
After the tour, I remember asking somebody if we are in the Philippines. It seemed so beautifully unique place and it takes an open mind and embracing heart to appreciate Marawi.
On my second and third visits, I connected with Maranao folk-students, fishermen and artists. They were all rooted to their culture, perhaps a lesson to the colonial-mindedness of many others.
And oh! I got invited to a humble Maranao wedding by the lake! An opportunity and privilege.