WANDERLUST| Reconstructing the Maranao’s ’balay’

“TOROGAN”, the ancestral communal house of a Maranao royalty, takes the spotlight in the “Balay-Balay ‘Ta!”, a 3D architecture puzzle exhibit and workshop at Abreeza Mall. The exhibit is open to the public from August 28 to September 5.

A project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Swito Designs, a Davao-based team of architects, artisans and designers, it aims to provide educational tools for Filipino children to discover and appreciate the distinct cultural heritage of the country’s various ethnics groups.

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“We initially feature the ‘torogan’ in this project. Aside from being known for its intricately carved ‘panolong’ or beam-ends with elaborate ‘okir’ designs, it is also disaster-resilient, something that we can adapt in our modern homes especially that we are faced today with numerous natural catastrophes,” shared Architect Gloryrose Dy, Swito Designs project head.

“Balay-Balay ‘Ta!” features an interactive ‘torogan’ house model that visitors can deconstruct and reconstruct while learning about the house’s interesting features.

In Lanao, where only a few authentic ‘torogans’ can be found, the royal house is home to a Maranao datu, his extended family and occasional guests. The multipurpose dwelling, similar to the Malaysian longhouses in built and function, is built on top of six to seven large stones half buried underground. This roller-like feature makes the structure survive earthquakes and typhoons by absorbing tremors and swaying gently along with seismic movements. The traditional house is also supported by 25 massive posts, usually made of narra and ironwood (magkuno) that elevates the house, making it sturdy and safe from floods.

Back in the day, it is also said that carabaos were made to fight inside the ‘torogan’ to test its strength and durability. Traditionally, its roof was made of thick cogon grass while its walls, flooring, doors, and windows were made of bamboo tied together with rattan, keeping the interior cool during warm months.

“We can help preserve culture if we teach it first to our children – that is where appreciation begins. We can also preserve it by assimilating it in our modern lifestyle. The disaster-resilient features of the ‘torogan’ can be easily adapted in the way we build our houses today. Our ancestors have built the perfect abode for our terrains and climate, thus, we need not imitate Western designs all the time,” said General Santos-based artist and professor Al Nezzar Ali.

Ali led the Okir workshop, attended by kids and university students, during the opening day of the exhibit. He is one of the few remaining Okir artists in Mindanao.

Today, August 31, the Balay-Balay ‘Ta! exhibit will hold a storytelling activity on the ‘torogan’ for preschoolers and an ‘okir’ painting workshop of the ‘panolong’ with Grade 6 students. Walk-in guests can play with the interactive exhibit for free until September 5.

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