I was in awe as I entered the second floor of the wooden building. A room richly furnished and draped with yellow cloth, the Maguindanao royal color, with splashes of red, green and blue details covering the ceiling and the walls. Banig, native mats with diamond designs spread on every inch of the flooring. Brass trays crowned with colorful woven dome covers with geometric designs neatly arranged in rows. These fill the central space of a Maguindanao Sultanate throne room. Except that this is inside a replica of a royal house and located at a strip of land at a government complex in Cotabato City during the Pakarajaan 2018.
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is celebrating Pakaradjaan 2018 on its 29th year of existence at the Office of the Regional Governor ARMM complex in Cotabato City, a 32 hectare land that has been its seat since 1990. This perhaps may be its last, as President Rodrigo Duterte signed last July 26, 2018 the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will abolish the ARMM and the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in its place. The ARMM is comprised of the provinces of Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawitawi, Lanao del Sur and the cities of Lamitan and Marawi. The word pakaradjaan is common among these provinces’s populace and means celebration.
Pakarajaan 2018 ARMM Village
Initiated by the office of ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, the festival is a showcase of the different ethnolinguistic groups within the ARMM. As we know, these provinces and cities are not contiguous. Central to the Pakaradjaan 2018 are mock villages with each province highlighting its own culture, architecture, history and food. This is the fifth time that these mock villages were constructed. But compared to the previous which were held between Sheik Karimul Makhdum Day (November 7) to the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival (December19), this terminal festival started May of this year.
The Maguindanao Village greets visitors with festive yellow, red and green banners typical of the area whenever there are celebrations. There’s a replica of the Quirino Bridge near th entrance. In real life, crosses Rio Grande de Mindanao and connects Cotabato City with Sultan Kudarat province. At one side are shops that sell Maguindanao delicacies and crafts. There’s also a replica of the vernacular pagoda style Datu Untong Balabaran Mosque which is considered as the oldest in Mindanao.
The highlight of this village, however, is the royal house replica with its rich interior described above. Musical instruments like the kulintang and gongs adjacent to the throne room display adds to the experience while archival images of the important persons and events enrich the historical tableau. From time to time there are tinagtag (similar to the Yakan ja, is a crisp tubular delicacy made from rice flour batter and sugar) making demonstrations in the open ground while a small restaurant at the ground floor of the royal house replica serves traditional Maguindanao fare.
The Sulu Village is quite interesting with its replica of the original Astana (royal palace) that used to stand in Maimbung, Sulu. It’s light and airy yet still sizable and regal in its form. The second floor has a small stage where performers do the Pangalay, a traditional dance in the region that focuses more on the movements specifically of the shoulders, arms and feet. The village also has several facsimiles of archival images and historical documents on the Sulu Sultanate as well as the claims on Sabah, images of Jolo and it’s burning in the 70s and many others. At the back is a restaurant that sells traditional food and delicacies.
Lanao del Sur Village
A pair of sarimanok sculptures as well as a replica of the Kilometer 0 marker in Marawi greets visitors at the Lanao del Sur Village. Here, a torogan replica stands with its beautiful panolong (butterfly wing projections) carved in rich ukir designs. The torogan features a rich and detailed interior with beautiful native furnishings and canopied bed fit for the sultan. There are daily dance performances accompanied by a kulintang ensemble. To help the crafts vendors who are now IDPs (internally displaced persons) due to the Marawi siege, ARMM Gov Hataman provided them a place here to sell their beautiful wares and craft, products which were made in Tugaya town known for its brass and wooden chests.
The Basilan Village showcases several vernacular architecture replicas. These are the langgal (mosque), astanah (royal house), lumah (traditional house) and kadday (traditional restaurant). Known for its colorful cloths, there are weavers that demonstrate this rich tradition. Yakan delicacies like the ja and panyam (local pancake) are available. And of course, the beautifully designed and colorful woven products are there for sale too.
Compared with the other four mini villages, the Tawitawi Village is austere and simple. There’s a replica of the Sheik Makhdum Mosque in Simunul. A Sama royal house on stilts over water greets visitors. At the back, a painting of Bongao Peak. Igal, as what the pangalay is called in Tawitawi is also performed here. The female dancer wearing janggay, those pointed finger ornaments made of steel.
The Pakaradjaan 2018 ARMM Villages is an interesting concept that showcases in one place the rich cultures of these ARMM provinces and cities. It enables visitors to experience and learn more about these often-misunderstood people and provides an avenue in promoting better understanding while endeavoring us to be proud and aware of our diverse heritage and identity as Filipinos. I just hope that with the coming of the BBL, this village concept will be done again in a more permanent showcase.