Awesome Women: Princess Piandao

Princess Piandao (center, with black shawl)

Her tomb appeared to us like a treasure in the jungle of Sulu. When the guide told me it belonged to the niece of the last sultan who died in the early 20th century, I had to see her face. Her name was Piandao, the princess. I had not heard of her, and as I pored over the books at the college in Jolo, I found one picture of her in her royal regalia. She stared at me. I knew then that I would write a book about her.

If I could have had the chance to meet her, I would like to have been invited to her astana for dinner. And there I would ask her all the questions: Did she really love her young husband or did she marry him for political convenience? Is it true that she was feared, that she slapped men with the sole of her slippers? What would she have done had she been allowed to rule after her uncle died, knowing that she was the power behind the throne? And, what really happened when it was all over, when Sulu lost the sultanate? Was that the reason for her deep loss? I had heard it was so profound it caused an illness that couldn’t be defined then (cancer) and that she had refused treatment. 

I imagine it would be a long evening of listening to her. Her kitchen would prepare the traditional dishes of Sulu, the delicacies and sweets. She might frown if I tell her I’m a vegetarian, but I would not resist if the island’s famous curacha crabs were served. And although she was always strict and stern, she would, for my sake, give me a smile. 

Criselda Yabes

Criselda Yabes

Criselda Yabes is a fellow with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on a one-year writing grant. She was based in Manila and wrote books largely on the military and Mindanao.