Looking Back

First book(s)

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History teachers have a fetish for firsts: first sundial in the Philippines, first adobo, first destructive storm/earthquake, first woman president, first hero, first Miss Universe, First Filipino. Endless is the list that torments students who not only have to know these bits of useless information but memorize them for a quiz. As I began 2013 with columns on books, we might as well know that there was not one but two (perhaps even more) books published in Manila in 1593 that are jointly considered the first.

After reading Gabriel Bernardo’s 1959 lecture “Bibliographical problems affecting Philippine historiography,” I realized the value of bibliographers in my work. Bernardo politely exposed the ignorance (or dishonesty) of scholars who wrote about the pre-Spanish Philippines from ancient Chinese sources, particularly the travel account of Chau Ju-kua (Zao Rugua in modern orthography) entitled the “Chu fan-chi.” Most historians cannot read the original and merely rely on an annotated translation by Friedrich Hirth and W.W. Rockhill first published in St. Petersburg in 1911. But many things get lost in translation and in transmission over time. Bernardo noted two recurring names in the notes of historical works: Ma Tuan-lin and Hervey St. Denis, which some scholars started citing as “Hervey St. Denis” or worse even “corrected” into “Henry St. Denis”! Hirth and Rockhill actually used a 19th-century French translation of Ma Tuan-lin by the Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys. Bernardo’s disappointed footnote reads: “Names of authors and their works are withheld for ethical reasons.” Bernardo’s tact is rare in academia today where some scholars slash and burn to make brownie points from the mistakes of their colleagues.

Bernardo reminds us that the Chinese brought more than noodles, soy sauce and sodomy to our shores; they also brought the printing press that published a book in Manila in 1593. Since there was no extant physical copy of this book to celebrate as the first, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera insisted the book did not exist. He died happy with his doubts and did not have to reverse himself when a copy of this 1593 “Doctrina Cristiana” was donated to the US Library of Congress in 1946. The following year the Library of Congress published facsimile copies under the title “Doctrina Christiana”. The first book printed in the Philippines. Manila. 1593. A facsimile of the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection. Library of Congress Washington. With an introductory essay by Edwin Wolf 2nd.”

In 1951, following the discovery of a second “Doctrina” in the Vatican Library, the University of Santo Tomas Press published a facsimile copy under the title: “Doctrina christiana. Primer libro impreso en Filipnas. Facsimile del ejemplar existente en la Biblioteca Vaticana, con un ensayo historico-bibliografico por Fr. J. Gayo Aragon, OP y observaciones filologicas y traduccion española de Fr. Antonio Dominguez, O.P. Manila UST Press 1951.” Therefore, there was not one but two “Doctrinas” in existence, not one but two “first” books published in the Philippines in 1593.

Deciding which of the two works to herald as the first book published in the Philippines was further complicated by the discovery in 1957 of a third “Doctrina” in the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid. This was a “Tratado de la Doctrina,” known by its Chinese title “Shih-lu” dated in Hokkien Chinese “Manila, second moon of the spring of 1593.” Carlos Sanz published a facsimile in 1958 as “Primitivas relaciones de España con Asia y Oceania. Los dos primeros libros impresos en Filipinas, mas un tercero en discordia.” In 1960, National Library Director Carlos Quirino (now National Artist for Historical Literature) settled the question by clearly stating that of the three late-16th century Doctrinas that had come to light after World War II, only two could lay claim to the title of the first books published in the Philippines: the “Doctrina Tagala” in the US Library of Congress printed in the Roman alphabet and our own pre-Spanish alphabet, the baybayin, and what is now known as the “Shih-lu” in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid with both Roman alphabet and Chinese. Both these works are dated 1593.

Quirino’s  bibliographic essay “The first Philippine imprints” from the Journal of History in 1960 was reprinted in 1973 by the National Historical Institute to accompany a facsimile of the US Library of Congress “Doctrina Tagala.” It is obvious that the facsimile was made from the 1947 Library of Congress publication because the NHI used the same title: “Doctrina Christiana: the first book printed in the Philippines, Manila 1593”—thus misleading a generation of people, including myself, who used this much appreciated and much reprinted book. From an honest mistake in the title of a book, the whole problem of the first book or books went back to square one. This explains why people mistakenly believe there is only one first book published in Manila in 1593, the “Doctrina Tagala,” when there should be two.  From this it is clear that we must heed the warning of the proverb that goes: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

[For a more recent take on the old issue see Vernon Totanes’ 2009 essay “What was the first book printed in the Philippines?”]

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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