Sulu Travel

Looking for Imao at Jolo, Sulu

By on May 31, 2013

sulu capitol - facade

The rain has already stopped when my friend and I arrived at the Sulu Provincial Capitol. The sky was still overcast though, but from our vantage point, I could make out the sun slowly setting on the far west. It cast a beautiful, muted glow on the capitol’s golden domes.

I think I have seen this building before. Local mediamen would often have this as a background to probably provide a context to their live updates. More often than not too, the news that they bring is not so good. I could not entirely blame them as they did not travel all the way to the southwestern fringes of the Philippines for a tourism feature.

At that time, I have only one thing left to do in my Jolo daytrip checklist: to look for the stained glass window created by a man named Abdulmari Imao. He is, to this day, the only Muslim Filipino recognized as a National Artist for the Visual Arts. He came from these parts, studied at the University of the Philippines in college and pursued further studies abroad as a Fulbright Scholar. Imao’s creations are inspired by the stories and the environment he grew up with, which is why they are unique from his other contemporaries based in Manila.

sulu capitol - various imao

Some of Abdulmari Imao’s creations. Top left photo is the National Museum in Sulu. The two sculptures of Sulu warriors (Panglima Unaid and Captain Abdurahim Imao) outside the museum were done by Imao.

We alighted near the National Museum in Sulu and then walked towards the provincial capitol. There were two men mopping the floor which is the reason why we hesitated to enter still donning our wet clothes. (We had an unplanned dip at Quezon Beach in Patikul earlier that afternoon.) Our considerate guide assured us that we will be fine. But we removed our footwear so as not to make the men clean again after us.

That is when we saw Imao’s colorful glass panel by the staircase. It is bursting with vivid hues of blue, red and green – a welcome sight indeed to the building’s otherwise spartan-white interiors.

sulu capitol - stained glass

The rightmost section depicts a kris, a hand-crafted dagger with wavy blades. At the center is what looks like a sarimanok, a legendary creature figuring in Maranao mythology. My best guess of the remaining panel is that it is a brass container of some sort, an intricate craft common in this region. I could only wish then that i could ask Mr. Imao himself regarding the many stories behind this particular masterpiece.

We only spent a few minutes inside the capitol as we had to catch our ferry bound for Zamboanga City. My friend and I were supposed to drop by the marketplace around this time to buy some pearls or malong or other Tausug pasalubongs. We were already pressed for time unfortunately.

sulu capitol - various views

When we arrived at Jolo port, it was buzzling with activity just like how I saw it earlier that morning. Vendors were selling freshly grilled fish and chicken for anxious passengers to nibble on for the long journey ahead. Porters were shuffling back and forth carrying heavy luggage. Families were hugging their loved ones their fondest goodbyes.

As our boat left, I thought to myself maybe our local mediamen could set-up shop inside the Sulu Provincial Capitol next time, with Imao’s intricate glass panels as a background. While the rest of the country would probably associate the Sulu Provincial Capitol with Sulu, aside from Imao’s stained glass windows, there are many interesting places to feature, to see and to experience in this often misunderstood island in the Philippines. We just don’t know then what we have been missing all this time.

How to get there

Airphilexpress has flights to Jolo from Zamboanga City. The cheaper yet longer option is via an overnight passenger ship from Zamboanga.

The blogger strongly encourages that you coordinate your itinerary with a contact person that is at least based in Jolo. It would really help a lot especially in interacting with the locals and getting around, if you have someone who speaks Tausug, the local dialect.

  1. Reply


    May 31, 2013

    I always learn something from your posts. Good job, Baktin the travel writer 🙂

  2. Reply


    June 10, 2013

    I like their capitol..looks like a palace. 🙂


Brennan Mercado
The Philippines

Brennan is an electronics engineer by profession. From time to time, he gets to travel beyond his office cubicle, try new restaurants or catch up with his terribly long list of unread books. He likes museums, spicy food and talking with habal-habal drivers. For now, he's still deciding on whether to play Pokémon GO or not.

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