Jambangan: the “Garden of Flowers” never was!
My compoblano and I were talking about the original name of Zamboanga or its root. So, to him, a media practitioner himself, whom I’d known for years, I said,
“Zamboanga, as a ‘garden of flowers’ never existed. So, why call it ‘city of flowers?’”
He said, “Verdad—?What you said?”
In Chabacano, I replied, “Si, es verdad –it’s true.”
He said, “How? Why don’t you write about it?”
I said, “I will.”
So I — kind of thinking it as a challenge — wrote:
I only heard that Zamboanga, the ciudad where I was born and initialized to manhood in its bars and dancing halls, was the progeny of the Indonesian word “jambangan,” when I was already in high school, in the early ‘50s. Before that never! The common word was “sambuan,” meaning the long pole Samals used to fasten their sailing-canoes to as anchor, when they go down to barter in the old port town of Masinloc. Samboangan, as spelled on the map of Murillo Velarde sketch of Fort Pilar, published in 1734, was the unchallenged name then; it definitely wasn’t “Jambangan”; as early (or late) as in the 18th century. And a historical novel I later wrote had “Samboangan,” with “S” instead of “Z” and an affix “an” in its title: Samboangan: the Cult of War , UP Press, 2006.
Back to “Jambangan.” In his book, Roots of Zamboanga Hermosa, ex-Jesuit Father Hilario Lim y Atilano wrote, “To dispose of this myth, once and for all, let us set the record straight.”
Faithfully, I followed his track, untrodden until then, but fairly a good path. None of the Subanon “apostoles,” he claimed there, like the Italians Sanctini and Paliola, who spoke Subanon like natives do, ever mentioned jambangan, the “garden of flowers,” nor Combes in his book, who wrote of almost everything he saw. While on a mission with the Subanons, he wrote of fishes that ate the slime of the huge tree and excreted ambergris (ME ambregris, fr. MF ambre gris, gray); the school of tiny fish which metamorphosized into shape of huge monsters to fool their predators; of pearl divers who cleared their eyes with blood of white cocks before diving to the floor of the sea. He wrote of fruits, vegetables, and minerals but never once scribbled of the garden of flowers in the forest of Zamboanga.
Majul and de la Costa had ransacked the archives of the world, but did not find the mythical jambangan of flowers, as referrence to Zamboanga’s root name.
In Blair & Roberson, 55 volumes, Zamboanga is spelled 18 different ways (two are missing, according to Fr. Lim: “San Buagan” and “Samboungam”), no one historian ever spelled it jambangan to refer it to the myth or legend.
Then there was this story told to me by the late Adolfo Navarro, known faithfully as “Cabonegro,” then retired Zamboanga City tourism commissioner. He had authenticated our interview by signing on every page. This to me, “wraps it up” — excuse the mundane expression. The story he told me went something like this:
A couple of Indonesian guests came to Zamboanga, and while the late Mayor Cesar Climco and Adolfo Navarro were entertaining the Indonesians, the latter mentioned about the familiarity of the word Zamboanga to their Indonesian word “jambangan.” Mr. Navarro recalled the four of them were standing there under the veranda looking out toward the sea. “The word ‘jambangan’ to us in our language means ‘flowers,’ they said. Immediately, Mayor Climaco, an energetic and quick-witted person, who was then anxiously promoting Zamboanga for tourism, picked it up as a monicker to promote Zamboanga. “Jambangan” then was found everywhere: Jambangan coffee shop, Jambangan restaurant, Jambangan hotel, Jambangan everywhere—until it ended up as the pretentious ancient and original derivative of “Zamboanga” — because of its multitudinous usages and repetitions. A couple of years later, I met an Indonesian woman, wife of a protestant minister, who said the word “jambangan” doesn’t even mean flowers, rather it is the ‘vase in which we put flowers...a flower vase.’”
So, compoblano, take this as a reply to your “how,” but don’t throw the flower vase.