Category: rizal

rizal on christ: a divine man

Today is Christmas Eve. This is the feast that I like to celebrate best. It reminds me of the many happy days not only of my childhood but also of history. Whether Christ was born or not exactly on this day, I don’t know; but chronological accuracy has nothing to do with tonight’s event. A grand genius had been born who preached truth and love; who suffered because of his mission, but on account of his sufferings, the world has become better, if not saved. Only it gives me nausea to see how some persons abuse his name to commit numerous crimes. If he is in heaven, he will certainly protest! Consequently, Merry Christmas! Let us celebrate the anniversary of a divine man!

 — Jose Rizal
25 December 1888

original text in german, from a letter to blumentritt

rizal, elias, and the crocodile

excerpt from Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder and Betrayal in Tayabas Province, 1891-1980. 2011pages 256-258.

It’s the strangest thing that I’ve “known” Elias since I was a child, but only as a picturesque presence in the garden, of man subduing beast. This was unchanged even in university where courses on Rizal’s novels focused on Ibarra and Simoun, Maria Clara and Damaso, Sisa and Pilosopo Tasyo. Only now that I’ve found the time and inclination to reread the Noli with eyes on Elias does it dawn on me what Lolo Isidro meant to convey when he asked Don Tomas Mapua to design him a grand mansion with a huge garden and a sculpture of Elias in epic combat with the crocodile, the rare tableau fenced with iron grillwork for all the world to see.

It’s a very small world, of course, that knows of Elias in our garden. Even Tiaong folk know the place only as ang malaking bahay na may buwaya — the big house with the crocodile. Elsewhere in Quezon, formerly Tayabas province, there is great pride, I hear, that Rizal portrayed Elias as a native of Tayabas, but as far as we know, there is no statue honoring him anywhere in the province, except in our garden in the sleepy old town of Tiaong where no one seems to know him by name or why he is depicted atop a crocodile. Neither do any of the books on Rizal and Noli that have come my way dwell on the Elias and crocodile story.

The encounter took place in the middle of a frivolous river picnic that the rich Ibarra was hosting for Maria Clara’s circle of friends and chaperones.

When the boats arrived at the fish trap the nets kept coming up empty. One of the men, Leon, explored the depths of the water with a pole and concluded that there was a crocodile caught in the trap:

‘Hear that? That’s not sand; that’s tough hide, the crocodile’s back. Do you see those stakes shaking? It’s struggling but it’s all coiled up. Wait … it’s a big one. Must be a yard thick all around.’

They all agreed that that the crocodile must be caught, but no one offered to do it. Maria Clara then said she had never seen a live crocodile, and it brought the boats’ pilot, later identified as Elias, who had been “silent and indifferent to all the merry-making” to his feet. Taking a length of rope he stepped up to a platform and dived into the water. Ibarra had drawn his knife for Elias to take but it was too late. They could only watch as “the water boiled and bubbled; it was evident that a struggle was taking place in its depths; the pallisade was shaking.” And then it was quiet, and the young man’s head emerged to everyone’s relief.

The pilot drew himself up to the platform, holding the end of the rope, and started to heave at it, dragging up the crocodile.

It had the rope tied around its neck and under its forelegs. It was as big as Leon had surmised; on its back grew green moss, which is to crocodiles what grey hair is to a man. It was bellowing like a bull, trashing the bamboo fencing with its tail, gripping the stakes, and opening its great black jaws with their long teeth.

The pilot was lifting it up all alone; no one thought of helping him.

Once the crocodile was out of the water and on the platform, he squatted on top of it and snapped its great jaws shut with his powerful hands. He was trying to tie the jaws together when the crocodile, in one last effort, tensed its body and, striking the platform with all the strength of its tail, succeeded in leaping into the lake outside the fish trap, dragging his captor behind him. The pilot was as good as dead! There was a cry of horror.

Then, with lightning speed, another body struck the water; they had hardly time to recognise Ibarra. Maria Clara did not faint because Filipina women do not know how.

Bloodstains spread through the waters. The young fisherman dived in, his native blade in hand, followed by his father. But they had scarcely disappeared when Crisostomo and the pilot emerged, clinging to the reptile’s dead body. Its white belly had been ripped open and the knife was stuck in its throat.

. . . Ibarrra was unscathed; the pilot had only a slight scratch on one arm.[1]

It was a fishing expedition that netted no fish, just an old crocodile caught in a trap that Maria Clara was curious about, never having seen one before. Elias may have thought it was reason enough to go fetch the beast, never mind that it was dangerous business. Armed only with a rope, he of “splendid” physique finally subdued and heaved the predator up to the platform. He was trying to tie the jaws shut, the moment that is frozen in time by the sculptor, the very same moment that the crocodile gathered critical strength and the next moment broke free, leaping back into the lake, dragging Elias along. Finally, Ibarra could stand by no longer, and jumped in with his trusty blade. It took nothing less than the combined efforts of the seething indio and the tisoy sophisticate to eliminate the enemy for good. A message from Rizal set in stone by Lolo Isidro in the time of America, some 83 years ago. He must have known that we would need reminding, he must have seen that America was, in essence, here to stay, and it would take another revolution to regain lost ground.

In the “heyday of the Revolution”, writes Quibuyen, “throughout Luzon and the Visayas, practically all revolutionary units were organized, directed, and led by the local ilustrados, prominent members of the principalia, and even the native clergy.” And let us not forget the Filipino women, who weren’t the fainting kind. “What Elias had hoped for in the Noli”– the masses and the native elite rising as one – “became a reality in the Revolution of 1898.”[2]

[1] Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal, 1886. English Translation by Leon Ma. Guerrero. Manila: Guerrero Publishing, 1995. 114-122.

[2] A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony, and Philippine Nationalism by Floro C. Quibuyen. QC: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 1999. 310-311.


read too Adrian Cristobal’s “Elias: The Ethics of Revolution” 

Rizal and socialism (3)

By Elmer Ordonez

UTOPIAN socialism may well have been an influence on Rizal—considering that his close friend Juan Luna enthused over Le socialisme contemporain, described as “a conflation” of various schools of socialist thought from utopians like St. Simon and Robert Owen to Marxist, anarchists and Christian socialists. Rizal could not well have advocated the more radical strains of socialism in his North Borneo (Sandakan) settlement project despite his use of an anarchist character in Simoun in his second novel El Filibusterismo and the fact that his Noli, although devoid of anarchism, was first translated into another European language by anarchists Ramon Sempau and Henri Lucas, whom Isabelo de los Reyes befriended in Montjuich castle prison.

The utopian spirit in fact pervades in the literature of the prime movers of the Philippine revolution like Andres Bonifacio in his “Dapat mabatid ng mga Tagalog” and Emilio Jacinto’s “Kartilya,” both published in the one issue of Kalayaan, the Katipunan publication. Apolinario Mabini in his Decalogue also manifested the moral and ethical foundations of an imagined Filipino community; Rizal’s musings through his characters like PilosopongTasyo and Padre Florentino and his last thoughts of motherland in “Mi Utimo Adios” attest to an idealized national community, an Eden lost (because of colonialism) that must be regained through education and struggle for freedom.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Europe was entering what left writers call “the age of early globalization” marked by social and political unrest, imperialist ventures, and the beginnings of the disintegration of ruling dynasties that culminated in the First World War and its aftermath, revolutions in many countries like the Russian in October 1917.

What Rizal must have sensed during his writing of his second novel Fili (from 1988-1890) found their way into the novel. The terrorist acts of anarchists during the period – bombings and assassinations — were a regular occurrence. Rizal’s death by firing squad, it is argued, must have caused indirectly to the assassination of Spain’s president Canova in 1897. The U.S. annexation of the Philippines in 1899 was followed by the assassination of President McKinley in Buffalo, New York, the following year. Both were assassinations were carried out by anarchists

It would seem that at the time of Rizal’s exile to Dapitan and before the turn of the century the anarchist movement had already decided to bring about radical social change through deeds, to destroy government and raze the cities and build new societies. The age of propaganda through literature had given way to a period of action according to the anarchist vision.

In Rizal’s Fili, Simoun the anarchist had a dual mission, to destroy the colonial establishment that persecuted him and his family and to rescue Maria Clara, Ibarra’s beloved, from the nunnery. His bombing mission failed and no mayhem took place. Simoun as the disguised Ibarra learned too late about the sad fate of his beloved. Simoun was not a failed anarchist terrorist, and so was Conrad’s character Verloc in The Secret Agent (1905) who inveigled his wife’s half-wit brother to blow up Greenwich observatory, symbol of western science, ending up with the bomber blowing himself to bits instead.

It was then deemed doubtful that the anarchists would be interested in also publishing Fili with a failed anarchist character and with personal reasons for carrying out his terrorist project.

Of Rizal’s contemporaries, Isabelo de los Reyes was the one most influenced by anarchist and Marxist socialism by virtue of his close association with the radicals in the notorious Montjuich in Barcelona. He was first brought to this jail after his arrest in the wake of the 1896 revolution; when released he immediately joined in the street fighting in Barcelona, armed with a revolver. Despite his earlier differences with Rizal, Isabelo is believed to be responsible for the posthumous publication of the first translation of Noli in 1898, albeit bowdlerized with its strictures on the friars and the church, toned down. The anarchist publication series was interested in Noli for just depicting a colonial society.

Isabelo de los Reyes managed to return to the country in 1901 lugging with him books by Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, Zola, Malatesta, and others. He organized the Union Obrero Democratico, but he was arrested later by American authorities for leading workers strikes and marches. He entered politics and won a seat in the city municipal board and later in the Senate. He went to the Senate riding in a caretela, refusing the use of a car because it consumed gasoline sold by big business. He lived in the working class district of Tondo. Poor health forced him to devote his time to the Philippine Independence church which he founded with Gregorio Aglipay.

New leaders took over the union which had changed its name – leaders from both the ilustrado and working class like Dr. Dominador Gomez, Lope K. Santos, Herminigildo Cruz, and Juan Feleo. Santos would write the first socialist novel Banaag At Sikat (1906). It was a matter of time for proletarian leaders, armed with the socialist vision of Marx, Engels and Lenin, to gain ascendancy in worker organizing and national liberation struggles.

Rizal was a trailblazer in this respect.


Rizal and socialism

By Elmer Ordonez

In the wake of recent conferences/lectures on Jose Rizal, one theme about Rizal is worth revisiting—his encounter with socialism in all its hues in Europe and how he used it in his novels.

Two dominant strains of socialism vied for allegiance of intellectuals in late 19th century Europe—Marxist socialism and Bakuninian anarchism. It appears that the latter made more inroads and influenced the ilustrados including Rizal. As early as the 1872 Cavite Mutiny, Spanish authorities worried about radical ideas among leaders of the revolt –for which a whole generation of ilustrados were arrested, executed, and exiled abroad.  Click here for the rest