The Kiram Building

Nonfiction by , | March 21, 2010

(Remembering The Lost Sultan’s Mansion)

The Mansion in Kidapawan designed and built by Sultan Omar Kiram II, locally known as the Kiram Building, was a testimony to the life and artistic merit of a great man of history. With its distinct Roman-Torogan design, it was arguably Kidapawan’s greatest link to its Mindanawon roots. Yet its destruction, and the Kidapaweño’s indifference to it, painfully reveals how unconcerned the people are for their heritage.

Located in front of the NFA Warehouse along the side of the National Highway leading to Davao, the mansion was one of the city’s most distinct landmarks. It was a fusion of Maranao and western architecture: a Torogan made of cement with Roman Pillars. It was dominated by the Maranawon floral motif called okir, more commonly seen in malongs. This motif, which came in the form of the floral patterns in the mouldings as well as the solar patterns adorning the walls was most highlighted in the porch. The mansion’s porch, which faced the National Highway, was adorned with two perpendicular panolongs, ornate eaves characteristic of the Torogan, on each corner. The panolong is reminiscent of the naga motif of the central-Asian kingdoms of Cambodia and Thailand, hinting at possible historical links between these cultures and the Malay. It is a physical extension of the okir motif that dominated the building. But while the panolong is usually made of wood, those in the Kiram Building were made of cement.

Created in 1962, the building was the brainchild of Major Vicente Austria, better known as Sultan Omar Kiram. He built it with his sons after he and his family of ten children moved to the city in the early 1950s.

In late 2009, half of the building was destroyed while much of the lawn in the southwest was converted into a hardware store. The building stood for over 47 years.

To fully appreciate the history and significance of the building, as well as feel the regret for having allowed it to collapse, I will discuss the illustrious life of its designer and former inhabitant. (I was able to get a brief though highly insightful interview from Mr. Marinius Austria, otherwise known as Prince Faisal Kiram, son and heir of the late Sultan Omar.)

The life of the Sultan, as manong Marinius tells, is spectacularly adventurous. It is the story of a prince torn away from his heritage but brought back to it again by fate.

When the Philippine-American war broke out, Bai Saumay Ampaso Mindalano, wife of Sultan Omar Kiram I, Uyaan sultan of Oyanan in Lanao del Sur, feared for the life of her son and husband’s heir, the seven-year-old Omar. She thus instructed the prince’s governess, Ishraida, to flee to Dansalan (now Marawi) with the boy. But the prince was lost in the trip, kidnapped by Moro collaborators, and was unknowingly brought to Dansalan to be sold as a slave. An American-Ilocano soldier, Gil Austria, bought him for twenty-two pesos and named him Vicente.

Vicente would be raised a Christian. But all the while, he could speak Maranao fluently, and he did not know why.

He was sent to Adamson University in the U.S., where he took up two Engineering courses and a master’s degree in Pottery. He went back to the Philippines, where he was invited to teach Chemistry and give lectures on pottery at the Silliman University.

When the Second World War broke out, he joined the military. His desire to join the war increased when his adoptive parents, the Austrias, were killed in the war. He would eventually rise to the rank of major. It was also during this time that he married Nelly Lee Kelly, a family friend and daughter of an Irish-American veteran soldier. The union would bear ten children.

After the war, President Magsaysay made him part of the government, particularly as translator for negotiations with Moro rebel groups.

In April 19, 1955, an earthquake struck Lanao. The worst area hit was the village of Uyaan. President Magsaysay, who recognized Vicente’s fluency in the Maranao tongue, sent him to give relief aid.

Uyaan was notoriously reclusive, owing to the tragedy its royal family had faced during the wars. Entrance into it was highly restricted. It was no surprise then that when Vicente and his entourage came, they were nearly killed. The execution was postponed, owing to him being a government official.

He bathed in the banks of the Lake Lanao after one round of disseminating relief goods. While bathing, he noticed how a dignified old woman was staring at her from the banks. Politely, he inquired the old woman’s purpose.

She said she recognized his build, and that the scars on his arms were royal birthmarks of the area. Then suddenly, she wore a look of surprise and excitement. She asked him if she could touch his lower back, to which he consented. There she touched a birthmark that had always bothered Vicente as a young man.

She dragged him to town and began exclaiming, “Bunsa is home! He is alive! He is home!” and the people began murmuring among themselves. Several men came out and looked both excited and indignant. These were the children of the late Sultan Omar I. The old woman, who was none other than the governess Ishraida, asked that they take off their clothes.

The similarity in physique was astonishing. At that moment, Congressman Amir Mindalano, brother of the late sultan and acting sultan, explained to Vicente his origins: he was none other than the lost prince.

Thus Vicente, who came to Uyaan to give relief aid to the victims of the earthquake, was Proclaimed Omar Saumay Ampaso Mindalo al Kiram II, Uyaan Sultan of Onayan on September 24, 1955.

But Omar, as he was now known, did not want to raise his children with such pampered treatment. He humbly relinquished the duties of Sultan to his uncle, who had held it successfully for 33 years. Instead, he continued his involvement in the government, supervising such public works as the Kidapawan-Matalam-Tacorong road. It was through this project that he and his family arrived in Kidapawan.

Omar and his family moved to Kidapawan in the 1950s. He bought a 2.3 hectare land from Emilio Guinoo, a local land magnate and pioneer of movie theatres. In 1962, the Sultan, with the help of his son Marinius, designed and built what would be the Sultan Omar Kiram Building on the piece of land.

On April 19, 1986, exactly 41 years after the fated earthquake of 1955 that revealed his true identity, the Sultan died at the age of 71. His properties were equally distributed to his widow and his ten children.

Care and maintenance of the family house, the Mansion, was taken up by Manong Marinius, the fourth child and third son. Manong Marinius happened to be the heir to his father, being closest to him when he was alive, while most of the family, including the widowed Bai Nelly had moved to the United States.

Manong Marinius was active in the City government, being once chairman of the provincial Agriculture and Fishery Council and treasurer of the regional Council. During his tenure as Kidapawan Tourism Council Chairman, the council garnered two Kalakbay Awards in 1996 and 1997. It was no surprise, therefore that during the term of Manny Piñol as Governor of Cotabato, he rented the Kiram Building to the Mindanao Rural Development Authority (MRDP).

In late 2009, one of Manong Marinius’s brothers-in-law sold a share of the Kiram building’s lot for 2.3 Million pesos. On the part of the lot that was sold (much of the southeastern lawn), a Citi Hardware branch was constructed. Much to Manong Marinius’s horror, part of the building was also destroyed. Currently, he has filed a case against his brother-in-law about the destruction of the house.

Now, the mansion has ceased to be a mansion. It has lost its former grandeur. The walls, constructed by the Sultan to mirror the defensive nature of the war-like Maranao, are dilapidated in some parts. There are no more gates. The garden in front of the building is fraught with weeds and garbage. The Cycas plants that used to line the lane from the gate stand dead. What remains of the building itself has been used as the quarters of the soldiers stationed at the checkpoint in front of the building. And the porch, the mansion’s crowning glory, has been divided crudely into half, with one part utterly destroyed.

As a son of Kidapawan, could I be blamed for writing something about such a tragedy?

When it still stood, the Kiram building, with its unique architecture, served as one of Kidapawan’s few links to its Mindanawon roots. It was one of the few reminders to the Kidapaweños that our city is part of Mindanao and was thus involved in its colourful though bloody history.

And yet, there was very little or no reaction at all when the building was destroyed.

Manong Marinius expressed great regret about the building’s end. He mentioned that even Manny Piñol, the current vice governor, was deeply saddened at the loss of such an historically significant structure. Yet despite this, the Kidapaweño goes about his/her daily life, giving no attention to such a great loss. He/she thinks more about that new Citi hardware branch built on its place.

Truly, there is a lesson here somewhere. But are we willing to learn it?

Both sophomores from in Kidapawan, Karlo David is currently taking up AB Englsih while Christian Cabagnot is taking up Mass Communication in the Ateneo de Davao University.

26 thoughts on “The Kiram Building”

  1. exactly, karl…masayangan jud ko everytime mag-agi ko didto…indifferent jud ang mga tawo, even ang LGU…I like my father’s comment on this issue when we talked about this over dinner. Ana siya, “the people have lost their sense of history.”

  2. I can still remember being there several times when I accompany my mama in court hearings way back in the ’90s. The building had served as municipal trial court back then.

  3. Really!? It was a municipal trial court!? Wala gud namo ‘to na pick-up nga fact. Thanks for the info, Paul!

    Actually, this has several corrections:

    Sa Manila diay ang Adamson, dili sa States. Our notes on the University contained “California” kung asa napadala ang painting niya for winning first in a competition. Namali ug sulat!

    Tag 40 Million pud diay ang pagbaligya sa lot, dili 2.3. Yet again, our notes were to blame: natapad ang area sa land (2.3 hectares) sa word nga “sold.”

    We already sent a set of corrigenda along with pics to the e-mail ad. Unta ma-publish arong ma-correct!

  4. Yes, Karl. MTC to dati. Ahh, so daghan-daghan sab diay ang ayuson. Anyway, makarelate kaayo ko ani, Karl. Nindot.;]]

  5. .(~_~). finally…

    thank you for sharing this guys; at last nalaman ko rin ang history ng bahay na yun…

    honestly lang ha, magkahalong galit at lungkot ang bumalot sa akin noong makita kong nasirsa na ung bahay na yun… as in super inis ko talaga… di man lang nila binigyang halaga ung historical value ng site…. di man lang nila nirespeto ung beauty nung bahay… di man lang nila pinansin ung ibat-ibang kwento tungkol at dahil sa bahay na iyon… grrrrrr….. **%$&^..

    naaala ko pa, everytime na nadadaanan ko ung bahay na yan, lagi kong ini’imagine na doon sa attic nila may mga bolo, ginto, damit at ibat-iba pang’gamit ng sina’unang panahon… pero ngayon wala na!!

    ang pangit na talaga!!!!!!!!…parang binuhusan ng itim na pintura ang painting ni Mona Lisa; parang nilagayan ng mga maliliit na butas ang watawat ng pilipinas.
    as in super pangit na!

  6. Its nice to know the historical past of our ancestors… i was one of the grandchildren of Congressman Amir Mindalano and im so happy to know that i have relatives there in kidapawan!!! i was looking forward to see the KIRAM building though it is already destroyed ,, hopefully imagine what it looks like before.

  7. “the people have lost their sense of history.”

    sadly, it appears they never have that -a sense of history- at all. but it’s not the people of kidapawan alone. most filipinos don’t. that’s why structures with historical significance go unattended if not demolished in favor of commerce. it’s not only the kiram mansion. the old kidapawan city hall facade was a testament to this city’s past and would have been better left refurbished. there was enough space at the back of the building to put up an additional structure to house new offices if it was really necessary. that old facade in gone now, replaced by a cheap imitation of the white house facade. tragic.

  8. I’m afraid there are very few pictures left of the structure now, Dr. Miraato.

    Yes, sir Caloy, perhaps that’s a better way of stating it: the people never did have a sense of history. But there are some communities out there who have that genuine appreciation for heritage, places such as Vigan and Silay, Negros, and I can’t help but envy them. If only the Kiram Building was furnished as something like the Balay Negrense…

  9. i would like to believe that mr. marinius austria would have a collection of photos of the old building in its past magnificence. he so loved this house and was very emotional when part of it was demolished. he practically helped in building the house, his daughter remembers him saying. that should be reason enough for him to keep mementos of the old building.

  10. I grew up in Kidapawan & have been to the Kiram Mansion many times. I’ve always found it beautiful, although I found its size a bit overwhelming. 🙂 Being a member of the Kidapawan Children’s Choir way back in the 70s, we would spend countless hours rehearsing in their formal living room where a white grand piano (the only one of its kind in Kidapawan) stood as a centerpiece. Sultan Omar would sometimes drop by to listen. You would know when he liked a song as he would close his eyes to listen. I remember he had a daughter named Tarhata & a son nicknamed Pinky. It’s sad how the structure we used to call “balay ni Sultan Omar” has deteriorated. It’s even sadder to think that the current generation of Kidapaweños do not seem to care about their heritage. I hope the LGU does something before it’s totally lost.

  11. actually the mansion was been sold one of the son of sultan omar kiram…never to mention.if any of us want to asked the truth about what happen of the mansion,Omar IV a.k.a. Prince Karim can answer the reality on what happen on that mansion.and besides as information gathered he is the only son who officially bear the surname of kiram and recognized at uyaan as a sultan omar kiram jr.other information gathered in dumaguete city said prince karim was been find by the siliman university ranking administrator to give honor to the museum of sultan omar kiram

  12. my name is prince karim k. kiram i am my fathers son in regards with the silliman university i am honored and i thank you,i am currently in lanao del norte with bai labi laila kiram a.k.a. nellie lee kelley austria shes 90 years old and in good health and about kidapawan the legendary home of sultan omar kiram a landmark and a historical site all information about this subject you wrote and to question me ? my home my land my property all under my name , you and your partner can simply sent a message to this number 0947-295-5891 or call.her name is jeannifer villasor shes in kidapawan

  13. Thank you for sharing your contact number with us, sir. We’ll get in touch with you when we revise this article.

    It seems you’re the late Sultan’s son? Sir, do you happen to know to what degree your line of the Kirams is related to the royal line of Sulu?

    Do extend our regards to the Bai Nellie.

  14. please give us information as to your lineage. claimants for the line of the sultanates can be traced up to the 15th century and this line are descendants of Shariff Kabunsuan.

    It will really help to reconnect to the past and rebuilding the present.

  15. My heart melts with the slap of reality. Once, rumors diffused that the late President Marcos inhabited the mansion, but reading the coloratura it hides, I will forever crave for its grandeur again.

    Kidapawan is as historical as its name, but its people, perhaps most, make their own ruthless and subjective history.

    We shall work for the preservation of our historical backgrounds, our past, and our identity itself. Let’s be aware of what hides in our city, of what’s worth discovering, and what’s worth to be remembered forever. I LOVE KIDAPAWAN!

  16. we used to have our hawaiian dance recitals @ the basement with tating and the evangelistas,and some other friends. i am awed by its huge space,beautiful art decors inside and i got the chance to see the masters bedroom the sultan was so nice he allowed me so see his room i was five years old then, often times gets lost trying to find my friends and usesira kasi ako, everytime i pass by i would remember that happy moments inside the mansion
    sad to say masira na talaga

  17. It’s so sad to find out that beautiful mansion is not there anymore. I had good memories of that place specially when i visited the Sultan’s daughter Evelyn (Tarhata) who just came home from USA. we had several pictures of the mansion and i can not believe they are gone.

  18. Ooh the memory of my childhood. We used to play hide and seek there.
    I hope my husband will let me buy this mansion and it’s place so that I can preserve the whole thing.
    I really hope because I truly love that place.
    I can build my Outreach there for street children and do a lot of things for people.
    Pray for Me. I bless that Place.

  19. I wish thee and thy beloved lots of succes in building the temple back in its original state, blessings, sometimes it is Solo OU R sOLO IN LIFE, N EST CE PAS VRAI,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,XXX

  20. maayong buntag, nakita ko lang ining story sa building nga ina kay na post sa facebook, nasayangan man ako ba…pero ano ang pwede pa mahimo?, may ara pa nabilin nga parte sang mansiyon.Pwede pa bala ina ma preserve kag i restore na lang ang naguba sa pihak nga side? basi may ara na legal moves sini nga ma preserve para sa cultural heritage…tagai ninoy ako info kay i testingan ko lang ngayo tabang kay Princess Yolanda Stern, prinsesa sang Sulu nga nakapamana sang Prince of Sulu, may ara sila NGO nga philantropo…

  21. Thank you for this story. I came across this by accident. I passed by the Kiram’s home but couldn’t see it well from the road. I didn’t know it was destroyed. I had my recital there when the Kiram’s family still lived in the mansion. The family’s piano was a white grand piano. I still have the picture of that piano. I remember Tarhata was at the veranda after that recital. she was my schoolmate back in the ’70s.

  22. Hi gud day everyone,
    M presently connected with lgu kidapawan. Can i ask a little favor from you guys. Do you still have an old picture of the famous kiram building in kidapawan?we would appreciate it much since we are going to feature it as one of the distinct landmarks of kid in our 2014 calendar. Can you help us in someway?here’s my contact number.2881868.or email me at

  23. Maayong gabii. I remember Evelyn Austria aka Princess Tarhata Kiram. She studied very briefly at St. Mary’s Academy in Pasay City. We were classmates in 5th Grade under Miss Abellon and/or Miss Abulencia. She is very guapa with milky skin. How can we get in touch with her? She would have been part of SMA Class 1978 if she had finished high school with us. I understand most of them are now residing here in USA. We recently celebrated our 36 years of HS last Feb 20, 2014 in Manila and we are planning another reunion in 2016. I hope to see her again. Daghang salamat. My email:

  24. Maraming salamat po Sa pag post ng history ni lolo at ng white house Dyan po ako pinanganak sa mansion panganay na anak ako ni Vence Austria at andito ako ngayon Sa university of makati nag work as security guard ng omni security agency, Sana makaowi uli ako Dyan Sa Latin.

  25. THE KIRAM collection, items from the Kiram Sultanate, are now at the Kiram Gallery inside Silliman University Museum

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