On the 5th of November each year, the city of San Carlos in Negros Occidental celebrates the festival of Pintaflores (sometimes called Dance of the Flowers, but literally means painted flowers). Residents paint their bodies with intricate floral designs and don colourful flowery costumes, commemorating the settlement of their city and the story of the lovely princess who once ruled them. Populated since the early 17th Century, the community has grown to become the second largest city of Negros Occidental after the capital Bacolod City.
The legend goes that these early settlers came from the neighbouring island of Zubu (now Cebu) to flee from lengthy wars amongst the competing tribes in the area. One of the warring Datus (chieftains) had a beautiful eldest daughter named Princess Nabingka. Fearful for her safety and the safety of the rest of his family, the Datu sent them away for refuge.
Princess Nabingka, her siblings, and a number of other members of the tribe set sail on balsas (bamboo rafts), crossing the deep trench of Tañon Strait, until they reached the neigbouring island of Buglas (now Negros). As she stepped on its unfamiliar soil, her heart must have been filled with the sadness of exile.
Nonetheless, Princess Nabingka ruled her new land with justice and kindness. Aside from her deep love for her people, she likewise loved learning, and in time, her knowledge and wisdom won the trust and affection of her subjects. They named their settlement Nabingkalan in honour of their beautiful princess.
One day, the princess was struck with a mysterious illness. She grew pale and wan, and became emaciated. Consulting the babaylan (a shaman in communion with the nature spirits), Nabingka was told that whilst she denied it even to herself, she sorely missed her homeland. She should accept her longing, and as a cure, look for mementos of her life in Zubu. Consequently, she frequently visited the beach gazing homeward at the horizon. She looked for flowers that might remind her of those she used to pick, but they were few and far between. None of these activities helped; in fact, her illness worsened.
With her increasing melancholy, the babaylan suggested that Princess Nabingka return home. However, this was impossible as the wars were continuing unabated. Her people finally came up with an idea. Clearing the forests, they planted familiar flowers in ever widening beds--especially sunflowers, which were endemic in Zubu. But the humid planes of Nabingkalan made these flowers wither in no time. In desperation, the village elders called for a council where it was decided that they tattoo their bodies with colourful flowers. That way, the flowers would never die.
Touched by the love and devotion of her people, Princess Nabingka started to smile again and in due course recovered her strength. The rejoicing Nabingkalanos decided to make a tradition of honouring their beloved princess, celebrating each year the time she regained her health. Thus, the Pintaflores Festival was born, and their emblem was the sunflower.
Years later, when the wars had come to an end, the Datu visited his family and asked them if they now wanted to return home. Home, said Princess Nabingka, was right there, amidst the people she loved, and their children who had by then established their roots in Nabingkalan.
In 1865, the land of Nabingkalan was bought by Carlos Apurado who renamed it San Carlos and developed it into a thriving Christian pueblo under the Spanish government. Nevertheless, todate, the Festival of Pintaflores lives on.
This is a heartwarming story that tells of how courage overcomes adversity; how self-sacrificing generosity wins the affection and love of others. Legends and folklore may largely be embellishments of perhaps some historical event in a distant past, but many speak directly to the heart and remain relevant to our world of today. The world of Nabingka is not unlike our world—a world of wars and violence, and the many dislocated people driven from their homes, embarking on perilous journeys, and enduring hardships in distant, unfamiliar lands: from the once boat people of Vietnam to the Rohingyas of Myanmar, and the refugees from Syria, Iraq, and other countries in the turbulent Middle East.
I was in London during the sometimes heated debates over Brexit. I remember talking to immigrants, many of whom had become UK citizens and now voting in favour of Brexit. I was curious to find out why, when they too were once migrants in search of a better life. Why would they want to keep the others out? The reasoning went that they had suffered privations in order to attain what they now enjoyed. Why should these refugees and would-be migrants be given free passage and enjoy the social amenities that these naturalised UK citizens had earned for themselves?
Hopefully, the story of Nabingka would help us understand the courage of these dislocated peoples, and perhaps move us to a spirit of empathy and compassion.
Source: *Chona Gosiaoco, The Legend of Princess Nabingka, 2019. Ms Gosiaoco is a Hiligaynon poet. She researched the story of Nabingka and interviewed Joe Alingasa, former Tourism Officer of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental