Lamin | The Maranao Princesses’ Tower Chamber
As peculiar as its existence, a real princess chamber called the lamin still stands to this day. It hides in shambles in a small lakeside town of Binidayan in the province of Lanao del Sur.
I have always thought that those bedtime stories of princesses locked up in a tower were all just fairytales. It seemed unbelievable that she could hide for so many years waiting for her charming prince to rescue her.
I knew those stories were just fantasies—the damsel in distress, the knight in the shining armor, the castle & the evil witch.
Not until I was 12 when I learned that stories like these exist in real life. And surprisingly, these too are replete with fairytale elements—in a Philippine setting!
Lamin, uniquely Maranao
Lamin is a special tower chamber perched on the roof of the torogan or the house of Maranao royalties. It was where princesses were kept until they were bestowed for marriage.
Centuries ago, the sultan’s daughter or the royal “bae” was treated as a precious possession. She was hidden from the eyes of the public to protect her from harm & to guard her chastity until she is married off to a noble man.
In the accounts of the Maranao epic Darangen, princesses were hidden in the lamin to safeguard them from being snatched by marauding clans. Darangen is a pre-Islamic epic listed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The lamin was ornately constructed with folk motifs called the okir. It was adorned with the finest tapesties & laden with the best wares made of silver & brass. She was served by handmaids & entertained with music from the traditional kulintang.
The trip to Binidayan
I waited more than half of my life to see a real lamin. Through the assistance of the office of Governor Adiong, this dream finally came true.
I have to admit that I couldn’t hide my excitement. The lamin that I once knew were just images from the plays of the Integrated Performing Arts Guild. It was the community that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of theater & from where I got my first understanding of Maranao art, culture & history.
After breezing through the thick morning fog on the scenic mountain pass, we descended into a steep forest path towards Lake Lanao. At first impressions, you wouldn’t think that a community still exists at the end of the thick woodland trail.
Then there she was, finally. Standing in the middle of the town, putrefying but still beautiful. I couldn’t believe that I was standing before an age-old piece of humanity, running my fingers on its antiquity & feeling her breathe her sighs of forgotten grandeur.
Standing in sadness
Unfortunately, only one lamin is left standing to this day. It was used by the late Bae Minangoao Dimaporo, Potre Maamor of Binidayan. She was born to the royal bloodlines of the Dimaporos & the Borngaos.
The lamin is in a sad state today. It does not anymore stand on top of the torogan as the massive royal house had long been gone. A family lives on it & has converted the base into a store.
Its walls have obviously decayed, eaten by termites & battered by weather. The ornately carved panolong or beams have cracked & some are already missing.
Horribly, the lamin has been extended to provide more rooms. It is surrounded with dilapidated houses losing its royal significance.
Save the last lamin
Just one big blaze & it would easily turn into ashes. Just one massive typhoon & it will be stomped into pieces. Just one catastrophe & we will forever lose this heritage piece that connects the Maranaos & us as Filipinos with our royal past.
I asked the community why it is sadly left in neglect. And all of them zeroes in on one thing—no budget for restoration & conservation.
Binidayan is a poor lakeside community. They obviously do not have the financial means, let alone the scientific knowledge to protect the lamin. According to them, they have already sought support from various agencies but none is heeding their call.
The government, especially the National Commission for Culture & the Arts must step in to conserve it. We must salvage the lamin before it’s too late.
The princess in her tower chamber is not a fairytale. The royalties of Lanao del Sur are not bedtime story characters. They are real & they are part of Maranao humanity. Let us save the last lamin.