The Jasmine Revolution
By Virginia J. Pasalo
TODAY, I woke up to the smell of sampaguita, the ones that used to adorn the sidewalks of Palacpalac, along the Manila North Road. The flowers of my childhood, picked early morning before sunrise, with my Auntie Intay, who bundled them together and placed in an altar, and stringed by me into beads to adorn my hair, my wrists and my neck. The same vine that my mother trained to grow in a circular pattern, making it look like a huge ball of fragrant flowers when it bloomed, which I continually stretch out for it to climb on a trellis and form into a canopy.
I carried a bouquet of sampaguita (sweet scented jasmine) as a bride, in our make-believe games, when we were children. I was not aware then that the flowers were actually used as bouquet for brides in India and some other countries where they abound.
One of the stories that fascinate me is the story of how the Duke of Tuscany brought the vine to Europe in 1699. He wanted to be the only one to possess the lovely plant, so he ordered that no cuttings be given away. However, his gardener who was very poor and could not afford to buy his sweetheart a gift for her birthday, picked a sprig of the flowering Jasmine for her to wear. She planted the sprig and it rooted, until the vine grew and matured, and “she was able to grow others from its cuttings, selling them to wealthy ladies and gentlemen who coveted its exotic fragrance and beauty.” With her earnings from selling the plants, the couple were able to marry. “In memory of this woman who used a gift of love to make a life of happiness for herself and her sweetheart, the jasmine is carried in bridal bouquets to this very day.”
In India, Kāmadeva (Kama), the Hindu god of human love or desire, is represented as a young, handsome winged man with green skin who wields a bow and arrows. His bow is made of sugarcane with a string of honeybees, and his arrows are decorated with five kinds of fragrant flowers: ashoka tree flowers, white and blue lotus flowers, mallika plant (jasmine) and mango tree flowers. The arrows “were tipped with jasmine blossoms in order to pierce the heart with desire.”
In Arabic, Yasameen means “white flowers and symbolizes feminine beauty and temptation”. It was said that Cleopatra, one of the world’s most seductive queens went to meet Marc Antony “in a ship with jasmine-scented sails”. In Tunisia, the buds are harvested to make small bouquets called machmoums and sold throughout the spring and summer. Brides and grooms use machmoums on their wedding day.
Interestingly, the 2011 revolution in Tunisia was known as The Jasmine Revolution after the beloved flower that grows in abundance there. It inspired the Chinese Jasmine Revolution, the 2011 Chinese pro-democracy protests and public assemblies in over a dozen cities in China on the same year. The Arab Spring, which began with the Tunisian revolution, was also called the “Jasmine Revolution”. It is uncanny how such a gentle, sweet-scented flower evolved into a symbol of love and revolution.
In the Philippines, sampaguita is our national flower. It can become, in our own context and time, the Philippine Jasmine Revolution.
you grow in my heart
every day, little by little
a revolution evolving
beyond my capacity
to hold from exploding
digging, in haste,
my own tomb
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