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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flame Tree Legend About Tragic Love

Written by Anthony P. Sanchez, Guam PDN, March 3, 2012.

The following was taken from the reprint of "Legends of Guam" in 1986, which was researched, written and compiled by Olympia Q. Camacho.

"In the old days a young Chamorro boy and girl loved one another, but because of a feud between their families, their parents forbade them to speak to one another. When their parents had been younger, the families had been close and were considered good friends. The grandfathers had enjoyed together many dippers of tuba. However, the friendship of the elders ended when each of the men thought he had been cheated in a land exchange. Since that time, there had been distrust, resentment, and silence between the families.

"In her village, Elena was the fairest of the fair, and because her mother was dead, Elena was already skilled at an early age in all the maidenly arts of the household. Before sunrise, she made breakfast and packed lunches in pandanus leaf bags for her father and her brothers. She washed clothes, made soap and wove beautiful mats and baskets. She and her family held to many of the old ways.
"The boy she loved was named Nicolas, who was a young man who lived as the only son with his old father. They seldom lacked for food because Nicolas had learned well from his father how to be one of the best fishermen on the island. Although only 18, his skill and daring in the deep waters had already earned him a worthy name. Elena had heard of his exploits, which outshone those of any other boy in the village.

"They met by accident in front of the same saint. The boy spoke first, breaking the family taboo, because he could not resist the call of her charm. They talked, they strolled; their friendship became love. When her father learned of the news of their secret courtship, he instructed the three brothers to take turns watching their sister closely. If the boy came near her, they were to strike him down. But as lovers will, they found a way to send messages to one another. They began leaving each other letters hidden beneath the saint's feet. At other times, a note was left in a missal or tucked in a corner of the confessional. In each of these notes, their ardor confessed itself more openly, more passionately.

"Soon love notes were not enough, for young fire cannot be so easily quenched by parental frowns, warnings or blindness. Elena's fervent prayers seemed to go unanswered until Nicolas dared to go to the garden wall of her house. There they met a night; he on the outside of the wall, she on the inside. They spoke in a whisper thought the hole in the stone barrier, confessed their joy in loving each other, and expressed their sorrow in being kept apart. At last, each was sure of the feeling of the other. They spoke kisses through the opening but could not taste them.

"One evening, Elena's older brother became suspicious of his sister's sweet murmurings at the wall. From then on, the couple knew that they must meet somewhere where they could be completely alone. They resolved to put an end to their unsatisfied yearnings.

"That night Elena wore the mantilla of white lace that Nicolas had thrown her the evening before. He gave it not only to adorn her, but also so that he could find her more easily in the dark. Elena, impatient to see her man-to-be, left well before the appointed hours. What she did not know was that her two older brothers, with sharp machetes in hand, followed her. They were ready to defend their sister's virtue.

"Arriving at the appointed place, she waited for a while near the bridge, not knowing her brothers stood close by. There was a slight noise in the underbrush, and the brothers, thinking they were being attacked, used their machetes and hacked at a live thing in the darkness. A wild boar shrieked. They fled the scene, terrified by the thrashing in the darkness. Elena hid in terror and lost her mantilla. The maddened boar smelled the human scent and Elena's perfume and seized the mantilla, gored it, ripped it apart and smeared it with blood. Nicolas was still far away. He had not been able to get away so soon to meet his beloved for Elena's father had warned Nicolas's father to keep the boy away from his daughter. Knowing the fearless boy's cleverness, Nicolas's father had cousins guarding him carefully, but the boy finally slipped away.

"When Nicolas arrived in the moonlight, he heard the savage roar and paled. When he saw the mantilla covered with blood, he was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. He had fixed this place at the edge of the jungle for their meeting. 'I am the cause of her death.' In anguish he vowed, 'I, too, shall die. The moon will see two lovers dead.' He went to the appointed tree with its white blossoms bright in the moonlight. He picked up the lace cloth and kissed it, bathing it with tears. In agony he took his fishing knife from his belt and stabbed himself in the chest, pulled it out with the last bit of strength, and threw it away so that his wound would bleed freely. The blood gushed out in great pulses and covered the ground around the tree.

"Elena came out of her hiding place and looked and looked for Nicolas. She thought he should have arrived there by that time. She looked around. Under the tree, she saw a body lying near the roots, still quivering and faintly breathing. She started to run away, and she recognized Nicolas. She screamed. Kneeling beside him, she touched his cold face with her warm lips. 'Why? Why have my cruel brothers done this to you?' she asked. Hearing her voice, he opened his eyes for a moment, looked at her, and then he died.

"She wept uncontrollable tears. When she finally raised her head, she saw on the ground the bloody machetes that her brothers had dropped when they ran away. Numbly she asked, 'If pride and hatred are so strong in life, what is there to live for?' Only stillness answered her despair. 'Neither family nor death shall keep me from Nicolas,' she said.

"After uttering a brief prayer that she and her beloved might be buried together, Elena asked the spirit of the tree to bear witness to their love. Then she plunged the machete deep into her abdomen. The gods of nature looked down at the two lovers with compassion. Then, the pure white blossoms of the tropical tree turned to a burning red like the lovers' blood.

"The next day the parents learned of the fate of the two young lovers, and both sets of parents mourned together. Some people say that the color of the flame tree is due to the blood mixed with the tears of the two lovers. Older people believe that the blazing blossoms of the tree represent young, unfulfilled passion. Some young people think that the red of the blossoms represents the shame felt by the parents of the young girl.

"In any case, in the season when the flowers burst forth in red, they remind us that love alone should rule the world."

Love in its purest form can bring joy and tragedy. God bless Guahan! God bless America!

Anthony P. Sanchez (Fongu) is the editor for Guahan/Guam A History of Guam.


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