Lake Lanao: The Heart of the Maranao Civilization
Lake Lanao is the second largest lake and perhaps one of the deepest in the Philippines. Found in Lanao Del Sur Province in north-western Mindanao Island, it has become the bastion of Maranao civilization. It is at the heart of the Maranao homeland and culture—the prime source of food and even the formation of their culture. Not only Lake Lanao is important to the Maranao homeland, but also to the entire island of Mindanao, as it is the primary source of power for the Agus Hydroelectric power plants, that power almost the entire island. The lake itself is one of the 15 ancient lakes of the world. Yet despite all of these accolades, she sits serenely in the volcanic basin of Ranao, with lots of stories spanning more than a million years.
While four major tributaries feed water to Lake Lanao, it has only one outlet—Agus River. That same river powers entire Mindanao with strings of power plants—including the famous Maria Cristina Falls in Iligan City and Tinago Falls.
Lake Lanao can be found here (map courtesy of Google Maps)
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Lake Lanao is one of the fifteen (now seventeen) ancient lakes of the world. That means, water has continuously been present at the same location for more than a million years—a feat shared by Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and Lake Biwa-Ko in Japan, both are centres of civilizations. Lake Lanao is believed to be formed tectonically or by earth movements. Today, the lake is surrounded by volcanoes and towns and is host to several endemic species of flora and fauna.
Yet the Maranao legend has it that Lake Lanao was made by the angels, led by Jibrail (Gabriel for the Christians) as the world became unbalanced due to overpopulation of Mantapoli, an earlier civilization. The basin where Mantapoli was became Lake Lanao. Soon enough, the water started to fill in, thus forming Lake Lanao. Read more about the Legend of Lake Lanao here.
Today, Lanao Lake hosts to a lot of species including bongkolong (carp) and tilapia. The lake has become the home basin of the Maranao people—even the name of its people, came from the lake itself! From there, singkil dance, torogans, powerful sultanates, the fabled sarimanok and a vibrant history and culture emerged and was unoccupied by foreigners all the way to the 20th century. This is the Maranao’s water of life, just as Nile to the Egyptians and Tiber for the Romans.
Ever wonder what Maranao civilization or Mindanao would be if Lake Lanao doesn’t exist?
Tranquillity and Power…
The calming effect of the cool wind, frequent showers, lush vegetation, and mosques that dot all over Lake Lanao’s coast was a welcome relief for a tired urban eyes. When we visited the town of Tugaya, the Maranao’s centre of arts and culture, kids were taking a bath at the lake–innocence in high noon. The tranquillity of Lanao Lake was unremarkable! Zen and simple living at its finest!
However, amidst the cheers of the kids playing beside the lake, there was this eerie silence all over the town. I met several Tugaya residents and said that the whole town centre doesn’t have electricity that noon—only on certain periods of the day. I was like, “WHAT?!” Surprised! While the rest of Mindanao is currently plagued by frequent blackouts, the town itself has and always been on “Earth Hour mode” every day as far as the residents remember. The irony is that it is close to where Mindanao gets most of its power. While far flung cities have reliable power, nearby Tugaya doesn’t have a round-the-clock 24/7 electricity. There is more to its tranquility than electricity–stories of power struggles and politics loom.
It Could Have Been…
When I went to Lanao Del Sur last November 2011, the city of Dansalan or now called Marawi, is found at its banks. The lake itself, nestled on a mountain table, seemingly is reminiscent of the mountain lakes of Switzerland, as the cool climate and the mountains provide a refreshing respite from the hot climate down at the plains. I imagine myself having a lake boat cruise or relaxing on a torogan-inspired villa beside the lake. Lake Lanao or Marawi herself has a big potential if marketed and developed properly.
Marawi or Lake Lanao as a whole could have been Mindanao’s summer capital if it’s local and urban planning was developed and maintained properly. Perhaps also the image of “distrust among the three peoples” and the so-called “war-torn Mindanao” as depicted by the mainstream media and social mindset in the past, may have affected its overall image. And there is the issue of security, especially the foreign and even the local tourists, who are still having second thoughts going up there. The issues of urban development and tourism planning, negative image, and security are some of the challenges that Lake Lanao should overcome. Ang laki talaga ng potensyal ng lugar na ito sa turismo (There is a big potential for tourism in this area) which may aid income generation and job opportunities in one of the Philippines’ poorest regions. It could have been developed like that of Lake Maggiore in Swiss-Italian Alps, with a twist of Maranao culture.
Yet I have hopes that someday and somehow, Marawi City and Lake Lanao generally, would be developed into a tourist destination in Mindanao. It takes time, the right education, and the right development.
I was watching a documentary last Tuesday and stumbled that Lake Lanao’s water quality has been declining over the recent years due to pollution, poor sewage planning, effects of the dams, and the increasing denudation of supposedly protected watershed of Lanao basin. According to the documentary, if neglected, by 2050 Lake Lanao may dry up—the end of its million year odyssey on Earth.
While the documentary may sound grim, some sectors of the society are already gaining ground in raising awareness of the lake’s importance, to the Maranao people, Mindanao and the entire archipelago itself. It’s a good start, and hopefully it will become successful in the future.
May the grandmother of the Maranao civilization have more birthdays to come!
Ancient, Benign, Life
Lake Lanao has been the beating heart of the Maranao world. This lake has defined the people’s civilization and gave life to one of Mindanao’s most colourful cultures. The lake has given rise to a federation of sultanates, of a system, of a culture that marks the people. Ever calm and tranquil, she feeds her people with her fish and nourishes them with the water. She is also the beating heart of entire Mindanao, as she gives energy and nourishment to the southern island. And even though she is old and has seen countless stories of both agony and ecstasy, through times of peace and war, she was able to nourish a legacy in the Maranao and the entire Philippines—in both culture and nature. Let’s keep her alive!