Looking Back

Fruits from a poisoned tree

/ 12:32 AM November 13, 2015

Listening to lawyers over the years has taught me some legal Latin and legal Spanish phrases, but the legal metaphor I find most useful in my line of work concerns “the fruit of the poisoned tree.” This often refers to evidence that is illegally obtained—therefore, any fruit from that poisoned tree is tainted.

Sometimes, while doing research, I come across unreliable information or forged documents that I take to be fruit from a poisoned tree. One of the most fantastic historical works I have read come from the pen of Jose E. Marco of Bacolod, who created many fake documents in a career that spanned half a century. His most famous creations that are still haunting our history textbooks are Kalantiaw, the datu who gave us the first laws in the Philippines in Batan, Aklan in 1433, and “La Loba Negra,” a novel that was once attributed to Fr. Jose Burgos.


Most historians will not touch any text that comes from Marco because it is deemed a waste of time and effort, but when I came across his thick mimeographed work, “Philippine Folklore,” in the Sophia University Library in Tokyo, I was fascinated by his perverted creativity.

According to Marco, the Philippines was part of the fabled Lemuria (from “lemur,” an animal that was once common in the Philippines but is now extinct). Before the islands were given the name Filipinas, in honor of an eccentric 16th-century Spanish king, these were known as “Ylaya,” a word of Chinese or Sanskrit origin still in use in Visayan and Tagalog to mean “yonder” or “far away.” If Maynila referred to a place that had the “nila” plant, then Panay used to be called “Maydia,” meaning “there is something.” Cebu was said to come from “cubu,” describing the large eggs of certain birds. Samar and Leyte were once related by geography and blood, and their common name was “Limasawa”—a contraction of “lima” (five) and “asawa” (wife), or five wives.


How I wish the experts on Philippine folklore—E. Arsenio Manuel and Damiana Eugenio—were still alive to comment on the source, accuracy, or validity of some of the legends retold by Marco. He claimed that from the Royal Archives of India he found the legend of the flower sampaguita. His version has a beautiful princess named Liwayway (Dawn), from a kingdom near Manila, who met Lakan Galing (Prince Charming), a hunter and prince of a distant barangay who got lost in the forest in pursuit of a wild boar. It was love at first sight. On the eve of their marriage, the Spaniards invaded Manila and Lakan Galing went to war. He never returned, but Liwayway waited every day by the spot where they first met. When she died and was buried, flowers grew on her grave that had leaves shaped like a human heart. The sampaguita then became the symbol of Filipino love because its name sumpa kita (I swear) was corrupted by the Spaniards into sampaguita.

Then there is the story of the ilang-ilang, which used to be spelled with a “y” (as in ylang-ylang). Marco claimed to have found this legend in the Royal Library of Palembang, Java. Don Martin, a Spaniard in Cebu, fell in love with a native named Maria. What complicates the story is that they did not speak the same language, and communicated in gestures and sign language. One day, Maria climbed a tree and then gave him flowers that he kept in his pocket. She pointed at the tree, saying, “Yla” (theirs). When asked again, she repeated, “Yla lang, yla” (truly their own). Hence, the tree became known as ylang ylang.

Fifty years later, Martin was buried below the ylang ylang tree, in a place that later became the cemetery of San Nicolas, Cebu, where, as late as 1881, it was still standing—a tree older than the cathedral of Cebu.

Although Marco was from Bacolod, he often wrote about or referenced Cebu because it was the place of the oldest Spanish settlement. I should ask the eminent Cebu historians Resil Mojares and Michael Cullinane for their expert opinion on Marco’s Cebu legends. Marco said the source of his legend of the “Miracle of San Nicolas” was an original manuscript that was written sometime in 1581 and that survived through a copy in the Museum of Mexico. He even provided fantastic names for the various directors of royal libraries, museums, and archives abroad that allegedly supplied him with materials.

Here are more fruits from a poisoned tree.

A certain Ny Chong was baptized in Cebu and adopted the name Nicolas Gomez. He once encountered an alligator but his life was spared when he invoked the intercession of San Nicolas, patron saint of a church built in the San Nicolas district of Cebu in 1563. The saint turned the alligator into stone, and this alligator-shaped boulder became a familiar landmark in a river on the eastern part of Cebu until 1866, when the Spanish used the river boulders for the construction of public buildings. There is a similar tale known in Manila, concerning a crocodile-shaped boulder in the Pasig. It is now gone but is commemorated by the place name “Buwayang Bato” in Mandaluyong.

Another legend concerns St. Francis Xavier and a crab. It was once believed that Francis Xavier passed Mindanao during his travels through Asia. When his ship was threatened by a storm, he threw a crucifix in the sea and it calmed the waters. When he stepped ashore, a blue crab approached bearing the crucifix. After thanking the crab, the saint blessed it and its shell turned red-orange and was marked with a cross. Crabs like this are known as “asalimasak crosan” or cross crab.


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TAGS: Jose E. Marco, Kalantiaw, La Loba Negra
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