July 14, 2017–The Bastille Day
Rediscovering Jose Rizal
by Ivan Labayne
Significant ironies surround Jose Rizal, my country’s national hero. On the one hand, he is ubiquitous. He is literally erected in monuments in almost every province, and inscribed in every peso coin most of us use every day. On the other hand, one can argue that there’s a lack of understanding of, even interest in, the life and works of this illustrious figure, whom a biographer once tagged as the ‘First Filipino.’
One can try to impress by mastering some trivia about him. For instance, one can recite his full name, or the order of his siblings. Nowadays, even knowing the exact date of his birthday can count as impressive.
For those of us who have gone to school, Rizal’s two novels, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are primary avenues for learning about the national hero. Sadly for me, I was not able to make the most out of these minimums set by the education system for teaching Rizal.
This is quite a shame for a literature grad. Reading Noli and Fili during high school might have appeared as a chore to me when I was younger. It is not that I shirked or napped in our classes: the lack of genuine interest in the novels is more likely an effect of our beloved education system’s playing out its favourite game of rote learning and textbook-worshiping. Thankfully, I was more attentive during our Philippine Institutions class (The Life and Works of Jose Rizal) in college.
I remember reading both Noli and Fili in the abridged comic versions which are available in bookstores for less than a hundred pesos. During senior year in high school, discussions of the Fili were more intense and less deplorable compared to those of Noli a school year earlier. Reporters were assigned for each chapter and after the discussion, a quiz would be given. This compelled the class to actually read the chapters. That is why I have stronger memories of characters and events in Fili than Noli: the Physics class with Placido Penitente and the schoolboys, Simoun’s foiled bomb-explosion attempt, his death and the throwing of the chest at the end. In our P.I. (the compulsory Philippine Institutions) class, I remember the discussions focusing less on the literary texts than the social contexts of Rizal’s life and his creations.
It is a pity for me not having read these novels—not just as a Lit major, not just as a student, but as a Filipino. At a time when schooling, accessing and reading books is becoming more like a privilege, and the study of literature and the arts is becoming less popular and discouraged, we can just resign and totally relegate Rizal’s novels to the shelves, forgotten except by nerds.
I am not resigning. Not that I have finally started going back and rereading these novels. We are getting there. Precisely this renewed and altered interest in Noli and Fili was spurred months ago when I encountered two books that touch on them, albeit differently.
Benedict Anderson’s Why Counting Counts: A study of forms of consciousness and the problems of language in Noli and Fili took the arduous task of counting the occurrence of particular linguistic terms—racial or ethnic terms, political vocabulary among others—in the two novels. This microscopic approach sought to turn away from one that relies on ‘selective and often tendentious short quotations from the novels in order to force their author into particular politics’ (80). As an alternative, Anderson looked at contexts: the characters using the terms, the interlocutors and the context of the conversations.
Meanwhile, Vicente Rafael’s merely used a scene from Noli me Tangere to bookend his discussion of encounters between the indios and the colonising Spaniards in Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule. Early in the book, he commented on a scene in Noli where Padre Damaso was giving a sermon to the indios: ‘they “fish out” discreet words from the stream of the sermon, arbitrarily attaching them to their imaginings… the drift away from the content of the sermon only pulls them back with ‘redoubled attention. … It is as if they saw other possibilities in those words, possibilities that served to mitigate the interminable verbal assaults being hurled from the pulpit’ (3). This generally set the tone for the book and prepared us for much of its argument: how the colonisation process was not received in a standard, let alone deferential manner by the indios.
I mostly recall Damaso as the malicious and lecherous priest who scandalised us with his treatment of, and relationship to, Maria Clara. I hardly recall him giving a sermon, much more a sermon where the band of listeners yawns. I may have missed really immersing myself in Rizal’s novels when I was a student and simply submitted to the prescribed contents of school work. Now I am thanking other reading exposures which haunt me with the presence of Rizal in them, beckoning me to go back to San Diego as a text the way Crisostomo Ibarra returned there as a fleshly being at the onset of Noli.
‘Indio’ Over ‘Filipino’
How can seemingly trivial details prompt us to tease out less simplistic reflections on Rizal’s work? Anderson looked at the terms designating races and ethnicity in the two novels and here I would like to focus on the key distinction between the ‘indio’ and the ‘Filipino’. Said Anderson: ‘In the novel’s 354 pages, the use of Filipino to mean something not confined to creoles occurs only about 14 times, and never emerges from the mouths of either Tasio or Elias (both of which Anderson tagged as ‘politically conscious’ characters). When Elias described himself, what he says is ‘Soy un indio,’ not ‘Soy un Filipino.”‘ This points us to the way racial categories were stratified in the twilight decades of Spanish occupation. As Anderson also clarified, the peninsulares were the pure-bred Spaniards, born in Spain; the creoles were pure-bred Spanish but born in the Philippines; mestizos are interracial ones and indios as the pure ‘Filipinos.’
As much as the term ‘Filipino’ is yet to be used to collectively refer to the people of the country, an official term for this country (now ‘Philippines’) is also absent. Actually, the term ‘Filipinos’ was already used but it referred to the creoles; hence, Spaniards, not Filipinos like Rizal.
Can we not compare the way the word ‘indio’ was employed and owned by the colonized people to the way terms such as ‘queer’ or ‘the N-word’ were appropriated by oppressed groups in contemporary times? While the colonisers bandied about the tag ‘indio’ in a derogatory way, we can say that the Filipinos huddled around this designation in order to collectively identify themselves.
Following this, an anecdote by Ambeth Ocampo reported by Anderson becomes revealing: ‘when Rizal signed his consent to the document decreeing his execution, he crossed out the word “chino” describing himself and substituted not “Filipino” but “indio”’ (48). A cute reaffirmation of what we know already: Rizal’s allegiance to his fellow people, the indios then, we Filipinos today.
To Lay Bare and to Unsettle
How can we approach Rizal? Is there an essential Rizal which institutions such as schools, mass media and the government deliver immaculately to the public?
Towards the end of his book, Rafael recalled the ambivalence in the word ‘exponer’ Rizal used in the Preface to the novel. It could mean ‘to lay bare’ (i.e. the social cancer) but also ‘to put in danger, to hazard, to expose to chance’ (216).
There is no Rizal-at-his-core to be discovered. No Rizal’s essence to be fathomed. Only a Rizal to be used as guide to the continuing formation of one’s own belief, a Rizal to be continually read and discovered as a prospective guide to one’s life practices, a historical figure we can lay bare only to be further unsettled.
Rafael then went back to the sermon and the mood of ‘general paralysis’ it ironically inspired: ‘the Governor snores, the principales nod off, the rest of the clergy are rendered powerless to halt the chaotic stream of words from the pulpit.’ All these contribute to the ‘confounding of the social order’. The act of translation and imposing authority does not happen without a crease, without interrogations or refusals; the colonised do not simply defer.
The same process can be emphasised as the Philippines remembers Rizal’s 156th birthday. Given how bloody the current regime is turning out and how fast paced and ephemeral events are seeming, there is hardly an excuse for snoring and yawning like Damaso’s audience. But the potential to ask questions, to refuse and interrogate remains. We need to be more keen and critical in ‘laying bare’ and making sense of events, perhaps using Rizal’s heroism and his teachings about our history as a starting point. We can always go back to the basics, the so-called ‘foundational’ texts—in this case, the Noli and the Fili. But we can also detour and hunt texts that will inevitably lead us to their real foundations, enabling us to see them in renewed and heightened interest.
Clearly, we do not need a new designation where we can all band together, a term to replace ‘Filipino’. What is more urgently needed is the asking: what does it mean to be ‘Filipino’; who are our fellow ‘Filipinos’, and why band with them?
Ivan Labayne is part of the art collective Pedantic Pedestrians. He obtained his BA and MA in Language and Literature at the University of the Philippines-Baguio. His works have appeared in ‘Daluyan’, a UP literary publication, and the Ateneo de Manila’s peer-reviewed journal, ‘Kritika Kultura’. He blogs at ivanemilabayne.wordpress.com.
Jose Rizal’s Last Farewell– Mi Ultimo Adios
Farewell, dear Fatherland, clime of the sun caress’d
Pearl of the Orient seas, our Eden lost!,
Gladly now I go to give thee this faded life’s best,
And were it brighter, fresher, or more blest
Still would I give it thee, nor count the cost.
On the field of battle, ‘mid the frenzy of fight,
Others have given their lives, without doubt or heed;
The place matters not-cypress or laurel or lily white,
Scaffold or open plain, combat or martyrdom’s plight,
‘Tis ever the same, to serve our home and country’s need.
I die just when I see the dawn break,
Through the gloom of night, to herald the day;
And if color is lacking my blood thou shalt take,
Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake
To dye with its crimson the waking ray.
My dreams, when life first opened to me,
My dreams, when the hopes of youth beat high,
Were to see thy lov’d face, O gem of the Orient sea
From gloom and grief, from care and sorrow free;
No blush on thy brow, no tear in thine eye.
Dream of my life, my living and burning desire,
All hail ! cries the soul that is now to take flight;
All hail ! And sweet it is for thee to expire ;
To die for thy sake, that thou mayst aspire;
And sleep in thy bosom eternity’s long night.
If over my grave some day thou seest grow,
In the grassy sod, a humble flower,
Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,
While I may feel on my brow in the cold tomb below
The touch of thy tenderness, thy breath’s warm power.
Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,
Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,
Let the wind with sad lament over me keen ;
And if on my cross a bird should be seen,
Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.
Let the sun draw the vapors up to the sky,
And heavenward in purity bear my tardy protest
Let some kind soul o ‘er my untimely fate sigh,
And in the still evening a prayer be lifted on high
From thee, 0 my country, that in God I may rest.
Pray for all those that hapless have died,
For all who have suffered the unmeasured pain;
For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,
For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried
And then for thyself that redemption thou mayst gain.
And when the dark night wraps the graveyard around
With only the dead in their vigil to see
Break not my repose or the mystery profound
And perchance thou mayst hear a sad hymn resound
‘Tis I, O my country, raising a song unto thee.
And even my grave is remembered no more
Unmark’d by never a cross nor a stone
Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o’er
That my ashes may carpet earthly floor,
Before into nothingness at last they are blown.
Then will oblivion bring to me no care
As over thy vales and plains I sweep;
Throbbing and cleansed in thy space and air
With color and light, with song and lament I fare,
Ever repeating the faith that I keep.
My Fatherland ador’d, that sadness to my sorrow lends
Beloved Filipinas, hear now my last good-by!
I give thee all: parents and kindred and friends
For I go where no slave before the oppressor bends,
Where faith can never kill, and God reigns e’er on high!
Farewell to you all, from my soul torn away,
Friends of my childhood in the home dispossessed !
Give thanks that I rest from the wearisome day !
Farewell to thee, too, sweet friend that lightened my way;
Beloved creatures all, farewell! In death there is rest!
Mi Ultimo Adios
Adios, Patria adorada, region del sol querida,
Perla del Mar de Oriente, nuestro perdido Eden!
A darte voy alegre la triste mustia vida,
Y fuera más brillante más fresca, más florida,
Tambien por tí la diera, la diera por tu bien.
En campos de batalla, luchando con delirio
Otros te dan sus vidas sin dudas, sin pesar;
El sitio nada importa, ciprés, laurel ó lirio,
Cadalso ó campo abierto, combate ó cruel martirio,
Lo mismo es si lo piden la patria y el hogar.
Yo muero cuando veo que el cielo se colora
Y al fin anuncia el día trás lóbrego capuz;
Si grana necesitas para teñir tu aurora,
Vierte la sangre mía, derrámala en buen hora
Y dórela un reflejo de su naciente luz.
Mis sueños cuando apenas muchacho adolescente,
Mis sueños cuando joven ya lleno de vigor,
Fueron el verte un día, joya del mar de oriente
Secos los negros ojos, alta la tersa frente,
Sin ceño, sin arrugas, sin manchas de rubor.
Ensueño de mi vida, mi ardiente vivo anhelo,
Salud te grita el alma que pronto va á partir!
Salud! ah que es hermoso caer por darte vuelo,
Morir por darte vida, morir bajo tu cielo,
Y en tu encantada tierra la eternidad dormir.
Si sobre mi sepulcro vieres brotar un dia
Entre la espesa yerba sencilla, humilde flor,
Acércala a tus labios y besa al alma mía,
Y sienta yo en mi frente bajo la tumba fría
De tu ternura el soplo, de tu hálito el calor.
Deja á la luna verme con luz tranquila y suave;
Deja que el alba envíe su resplandor fugaz,
Deja gemir al viento con su murmullo grave,
Y si desciende y posa sobre mi cruz un ave
Deja que el ave entone su cantico de paz.
Deja que el sol ardiendo las lluvias evapore
Y al cielo tornen puras con mi clamor en pos,
Deja que un sér amigo mi fin temprano llore
Y en las serenas tardes cuando por mi alguien ore
Ora tambien, Oh Patria, por mi descanso á Dios!
Ora por todos cuantos murieron sin ventura,
Por cuantos padecieron tormentos sin igual,
Por nuestras pobres madres que gimen su amargura;
Por huérfanos y viudas, por presos en tortura
Y ora por tí que veas tu redencion final.
Y cuando en noche oscura se envuelva el cementerio
Y solos sólo muertos queden velando allí,
No turbes su reposo, no turbes el misterio
Tal vez acordes oigas de citara ó salterio,
Soy yo, querida Patria, yo que te canto á ti.
Y cuando ya mi tumba de todos olvidada
No tenga cruz ni piedra que marquen su lugar,
Deja que la are el hombre, la esparza con la azada,
Y mis cenizas antes que vuelvan á la nada,
El polvo de tu alfombra que vayan á formar.
Entonces nada importa me pongas en olvido,
Tu atmósfera, tu espacio, tus valles cruzaré,
Vibrante y limpia nota seré para tu oido,
Aroma, luz, colores, rumor, canto, gemido
Constante repitiendo la esencia de mi fé.
Mi Patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adios.
Ahi te dejo todo, mis padres, mis amores.
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fé no mata, donde el que reyna es Dios.
Adios, padres y hermanos, trozos del alma mía,
Amigos de la infancia en el perdido hogar,
Dad gracias que descanso del fatigoso día;
Adios, dulce extrangera, mi amiga, mi alegria,
Adios, queridos séres morir es descansar.