Left: A statue of legendary Donya Punay showing her with a pabirik (panner). Right: A yellowing river in Mambulao, supposed to be in Calogcog, caused by reckless gold mining operations uphill. – Websitepic
A BICOLANO historian has relived the legendary life of Donya Punay during her days in the mining settlement of Mambulao in the late 1700s in a new book published last year.
Authored by writer/historian Danilo Madrid Gerona of Camarines Sur, the book was titled The Town Of Jose Panganiban: Rediscovering the Treasures of Old Mambulao.
It traced the life of Donya Punay, believed to be a rich expatriate in Mambulao, who was actively engaged in gold mining in her effort to help Spain raise funds for its operations around its colony known as Las Islas Filipinas.
Copies of the book are supposed to be available at the Mambulao town hall.
MWBuzz took the liberty of publishing an excerpt of the account:
“From among the residents who lived through the centuries, one person stood out whose memory did not only survive until the present but even assumed epic proportion.
This was the story of Apolinaria de los Reyes, popular in the local lore as Donya Ponay.
Except for the prevailing belief that she was a Spaniard who decided to live in Mambulao from 1780 to 1850, virtually nothing is known about her.
Owing to the scarcity of information, many twentieth century writers dismissed her as a myth or a legend.
But record kept in the Inspeccion De Minas of a woman who presented a formal claim on a piece of land in a mining site, opened avenues for a possible historical research -- her name was Apolinaria de los Reyes -- in Expediente 676, filed on December 16, 1781 with the office of the Inspeccion De Minas, Donya Apolinaria de los Reyes registered her ownership of a mine of gold in Monte Calogcog.
Uncommon for an eighteenth century woman to own properties, the land registered by De los Reyes suggested two possibilities, that it was acquired as an inheritance from parents or from a deceased husband.
For her to enter into legal transaction, Apolinaria must be more than twenty years old but not more than sixty years old when she would be declared a “reservada”.
Hence, this could mean that she was born around 1761 but not before 1721.
Nothing is known about her family background, whether she was an original resident or an outsider who only migrated to this mining settlement.
It is nevertheless certain that she came from a wealthy family, as evident in her claim and the honorific title of Donya.
Oral story claimed, however, that she "had a personal maid, a cook and five other people to serve and do her bidding”.
Surprisingly, there was no any hint as to her social status, she could have been widowed early or one who remained single until her death.
Although oral sources claimed she was Spaniard, the demographic record of Mambulao in 1800 and 1801, when Donya Ponay should be in her twenties, only indicated one or two residents, identified as Espaniol Europeo.
Could she be Donya Ponay? There were many other details supplied by oral stories such as her physical appearance, her aristocratic lifestyle but there is no available archival record to substantiate them.
But what earned for Donya Ponay a place in history was not only her wealth but her generosity which was concretized in the gift she sent to Queen Isabella of Spain consisting of a life size carving of the hen with 12 chicks standing on a platter all made of solid gold.
This story was probably widely known since even the first American superintendent of schools in Camarines province, William Freer, had known of this and spoke to a man he believed was a descendant of Donya Ponay.
I talked with the parish priest of Indan whose family formerly owned the famous Tumbaga Mine near Mambulao, many vessels of gold were owned by them, the last of which remained until the present generation.
It is related that the family caused to be manufactured by native goldsmiths a hen and a flock of chicks, all life-size, of the pure gold, which they sent as a gift to the Queen of Spain.
Truly, it was a fitting gift to a royal child which could have taken place when Isabella assumed the throne as a three-year old baby-queen in 1833.
By this time, Donya Ponay was almost 72 years old, a fact which fits in the traditional story that Ponay grew to a very old-age. This elegant lifestyle of this famous woman however came to an abrupt end.
Local accounts spoke of a tragedy that struck her when the moros raided the place.
Certain details were provided about this event, infusing the story with some sense of historical reality.
The story fixed the occurrence of the raid on a summer morning when Donya Ponay and her maid named Kanang were packing a lunch for their picnic high up the stream of Calogcog River.
It was said that in that place, the two heard the explosion of cannons which Donya Ponay thought as an announcement of a ships' arrival.
But the sustained firing made her suspect something was wrong. The two decided to stealthily investigate what was going on and found out that the moros raided and plundered the settlement. One of those which had been stripped of valuables was her house.
Historical accounts indeed carried reports of various raids, on of these was mentioned by the Alcalde Mayor of Camarines, Antonio Siguenza, which took place in 1828.
In this raid, the settlement in Calogcog, the place of
residence of Ponay, was among those razed to the grounds.
By this time, Donya Ponay was already in her sixties. Could this be the raid which brought untold sufferings to the people of Calogcog including Donya Ponay or was there another raid which happened?
If it was so, the occurrence of a devastating raid in 1828 could have rendered the sending of such precious gift impossible for the people reeling from extreme poverty.
It was also said that owing to the impact of that moro raid, the once aristocratic Donya Ponay was forced to pan gold to enable her to live and send letters to Daet.
It was also said that whenever she had gathered enough, Ponay would go to Daet to trade and appeal for help from Manila.
Once in a while, people who came down from the hills to pan gold in the Calogcog River could see Donya Ponay who remained in the town for the rest of her life.
A story goes that when she died, her old maid, Kanang, wrapped her in an old mat with the help of a fisherman and buried her in the cemetery without the benefit of an appropriate religious rite since Mambulao had no priest then.
If the local story could be given credence, she was said to have died in 1850 when she was about 89 years old.
Indeed, it is very hard to sift what is truly historical and what were merely mythical but by piecing together small available details, the story of Donya Ponay acquired a vivid and even realistic picture.” -- Courtesy of DANILO MADRID GERONA