(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.