Flowers are often assigned to countries as national cultural symbols. With Austria the edelweiss is associated, the Netherlands takes the tulip and Japan refers to the chrysanthemum. The Philippines have several national symbols, for example, the Carabaos (water buffalo), the Narra-Tree  and  a species of jasmine called Sampaguita or kampupot in Tagalog. Let’s have a look on this flower.

Taken only the botanical aspects, the „jasminium sambac" offers no big surprise. It grows as a woody vine or shrub reaching up to 1,2 meters. The plant bears a single flowers or blossom bundles at the top of her branches. The Sampaguita is blooming full-year and has white, small, dainty, star-shaped blossoms, which open at night and wilt in less than a day. Unique however is the distinct sweet fragrance of the blossoms. It does not bear seed , so the cultivation is brought up by cuttings. The Philippines have different domestic species of jasmine growing wildly. But the Sampaguita was imported in the 17th century from Himalayan areas.

In 1934 an American governor-general proclaimed the Sampaguita as national flower. However long before it has taken roots in the Philippine folklore and religious rites. It is mentioned in many legends, stories and songs - even in the 70s a rock artist adopted her name. Before independence it was „a bud of hope in the consciousness planted in the days of colonial imposition". It symbolizes a whole series of virtues: fidelity, purity, devotion, strength and dedication. At least in two legends these virtues are reflected:

Legend I - The missing lover

After the death of her wise and successful father a  young princess – called Lakambini – has to take over the regency of kingdom. However, she is inexperienced- in government administration and there is the danger that the country could be occupied by other neighbouring rulers. Only the young unselfish prince Lakan Galing is ready to defend her country against the enemies.

The young princess falls in love with her helper. On a hill above the sea, both embrace each another and Lakambini promises him eternal fidelity marriage: „Sumpa kita" - „I promise you" .. (the marriage). But Lakan Galing is not satisfied with only watching and guarding the country, he wants the enemies put to flight. „If the enemy does not come, then we shall seek them". He pursues the enemy with his ships. The princess filled by longing and love remains back. Every day she goes to the hill at the sea in order to hold look-out for her dearest. However, she waits in vain - Lakan Galing comes back no more.

A short time later Lakambini dies in grief and des- pair. She finds her last rest on the hill she always held look-out. Short time after on her lonely grave grow up a vine with small white, smelling blossoms. The leaves rustling in the wind echoed the „sumpa kita" of the princess. The flower then was called „Sampaguita".

Legend II (1) - The unfaithful lover

In a barangay the young girl Anita - „her beauty was like the beauty of early morning" - and the young man Ernesto grow up and they fall in love .Let’s take the words of author: "The beauties of nature and the fragrances of flowers filled the souls of the young people with longing for love and sentiments of luck … and they swore their love beyond the grave". Such phrases of luck in a fair tale announce a strike of fate.

Ernesto has to leave the place and Anita suspects that „his beauty could attract other girls like a magnet." Ernest tries to disperse her objections: „I would rather be able to unlearn breathing than to forget our oath". And he offers her, that if he should betray her, she could kill him wit a dagger. Time of departure of Ernesto is coming and Anita keeps the dagger. Time later Anita gets the information that Ernesto married another woman. „She felt her throat as strangulated and her heart seemed to burst." She went to the tree they always and it was her intention to cut into the bark: „Sinisumpa kita" ( = I curse you). Weakened however, she succeeded only in writing the short form „Sumpa kita" ( = I promise you). Then she took her life with the dagger and found her grave under the tree. Also in this legend, a flower grows a short time later on the grave with white, pearl kind blossoms. Her fragrance was so sweet thrilling to the cord. According to the carved short form „Sumpa kita", people later called the flower „sampaguita".

There are different situations to meet the flower Sampaguita. Let’s suppose you want to visit your girl friend and you are a Sampaguita fan. Following an old tradition you have first to wash your white laundry with Sampaguita (without washing powder). Your laundry will so get a sweet smelling. The work was hard, so it’s necessary to clean yourself with a high-quality Sampaguita-soap – as advertising says: Sampaguita-soap offers a refreshing fragrance, opens the pits and makes soft the skin. Not yet enough - to underline your attraction you use a noble perfume containing Sampaguita essence.

You should bring a present to your girl friend. You could decide for the Nintendo interactive play „Sampaguita". It’s recommended however to extinguish the 20 „bad endings" before. Perhaps you think – my present is a wrong one. There is an- other alternative - the special edition of the Sampaguita Barbie doll. The white long clothing - „decorated with sampa blooms in white silk, the hand painted green leaves and the ponytail adorned by sampa blooms"- will bring your girl friend out of world of objections and she will go into ecstasies.

On the way to your destination you use a Jeepney. What could dangle in the rear-view mirror of your Jeepney? Correct - the small, white, tender flower. Street children knock at the windscreen of the car again and again and may offer with sad eyes Sampaguita flower garlands for a few pesos. Your wandering eyes now discover the large-format billboard advertising for motion picture films. What kind of object the super stars are wearing around their necks? You are right again. Then you have a look in the daily newspaper und you see the seal of the Philippine senate including blooms of Sampaguita.

On your rural way there may be the possibility to see a Flores de Mayo parade or a procession of the cross with arcs, head crowns and bouquets from sampa flowers. May be you feel bad later and you get  headache. A Pause is arranged to visit a Grass-Doctor. The grass-Doctor - presumably familiar to native medicine – gives you the advice to inhale the hot broth of Sampaguita blossoms or is preparing a syrup to restore your good health. He is also mentioning that the blossom is also recommended as a cardio tonic medicine and drug  for wound treatment and against snake bites. Furthermore, the Sampaguita might also help in case of dirty skin and asthma. Finally – is the doctor reading the future of our girl friend ? - to stop the milk flow of women in childbed.

You are approaching your final destination. If you are still a loved one – your girl friend will greet you by putting a necklace made of Sampaguita blossoms around your neck. Because she knows, „This gesture is a perfect offering to welcome and to honour friends and guests". In former time, this gesture had also the function of ring exchange during marriage procedures. Later the moonlight is shining and your girl fried decides to intensify the romantic setting. So she is putting Sampaguita candles of different sizes on the table .............

Is it possible that you can either see or smell the  Sampaguita anymore? Only the Sampaguita can help you in such a case. Go to the nearest church with a Sampaguita prayer-arm lace. Overlook the saint statues adorned with Sampaguita. Concentrate completely on your wish „Never again Sampaguita". And handle the small blossoms as „prayer beads to a litany of wishes and intentions".

(1) according to: Josef Genzor, Philippinische Märchen, Hanau /Main, 1987 (out of print)    

© W. Bethge