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Rizal tried hashish

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Looking Back

Rizal tried hashish

/ 12:17 AM January 15, 2014

Marijuana is a prohibited substance in most parts of the world. In some places it is tolerated for medicinal use by patients suffering from lingering and painful illness. In the Netherlands marijuana and some special mushrooms remain illegal but are tolerated in small quantities. In Amsterdam you can order marijuana and light up inside a “coffee shop.” Be warned, however, that you cannot do the same in Maastricht.

When I was in high school I heard of people who experimented with marijuana from the Cordilleras using pages from the Gideon Bible distributed to students as “rolling paper.” In retrospect, I guess one could literally call those joints “holy smokes.” But I doubt if marijuana for recreational or medicinal use will ever be legal in the Philippines, where something as basic as giving married couples choice in planning their families is such a contentious issue.

The issue of the legalization of marijuana reminded me of a work in progress: my Q&A with Jose Rizal where the conversation runs like this:

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Ambeth R. Ocampo (ARO): I just remembered, is it true you used hashish?

Jose Rizal (JR): I myself, though in 1879, used hashish; I did it for experimental purposes and I obtained the substance from a drugstore.

ARO: You were 18. Being that age in our times means you can drive, you can get married, you can vote, but you cannot smoke hashish. So hashish was for medicinal use rather than recreation?  Or maybe you needed it for historical research?

JR: I do not believe that its use was introduced either before or after the arrival of the Spaniards.  The Filipinos drank arak, nipa-palm and coconut wine, etc., and they chewed buyo before the arrival of the Spaniards, but they did not smoke hashish. Neither does the word “hashish” exist in our language.

ARO: Maybe you needed it for a medical condition? I’ve read that you were a frail and sickly child, that you had an oversized head, that your left shoulder was lower than the right, that you spoke with a slight lisp. I don’t quite like the “big head” story because translated into Filipino, “malaki ang ulo” can mean you were arrogant.

JR: As a boy, I suffered from torticollis, a rheumatism of the muscle, which I fought with sinapism (mustard plasters) and by taking some sudorific (something to induce sweating). In 1886 I was sick, suffering from pains in the chest, and by the symptoms that I had, I feared that I am liable to have a serious ailment. When I was still a small boy, the physician of the Ateneo Municipal said that I had incipient tuberculosis.

Often I got sick with fever despite the gymnastic exercises that we had, in which I was very much behind, though not so in drawing under Agustin Saez, a teacher worthy of his name and under whose guidance I still continue to study.

ARO: Yes, aside from verse your pen was also good at drawing, you having studied under Agustin Saez who was also the teacher of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. Your selfie actually shows you shirtless, but unfortunately the original is believed to be one of the casualties of the Battle for Manila in 1945. Sayang!

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So you studied drawing and did watercolors while you were in the Ateneo and continued to paint in oil when you were a medical student at the University of Santo Tomas?

JR: I continued studying painting. I copy heads from nature in oil.  I have an ambition to become a landscape painter.  I am among corpses and human bones, having become inhuman, a quack; formerly I was very finicky. My hand is trembling for I have just played moro-moro, for you must know that I aspire to become a sort of swordsman.

ARO: What about music?

JR: For a month and a half I studied solfeggio, piano, and singing.  If you hear me sing, you would say that you were in Spain, for you would hear the braying of an ass.

ARO: Do you remember what books you read in the Ateneo? Authors you liked?

JR: In 1873 I began to dedicate my leisure hours to the reading of novels, years before I had already read “El Ultimo Abencerraje,” but I didn’t read it with much interest.  Figure out the imagination of a 12-year-old reading Alexandre Dumas pere’s “Count of Montecristo,” enjoying sustained dialogues and delighting in its beauties and following the hero step by step in his revenge. Under the pretext that I had to study universal history, I importuned my father to buy me Cesare Cantu’s multivolume work “Historia Universal,” and God alone knows the benefit I got from its perusal, for despite my average studiousness and my little practice in Castilian, in the following year I was able to win prizes in the quarterly examinations and I would have won the medal were it not for some mistakes in Spanish, that unfortunately I spoke badly, which enabled the young man M.G., a European, to have an advantage over me in this regard.

By cultivating poetry and rhetoric, my sentiments were further elevated. Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and other authors showed me another road through which I could walk to attain one of my aspirations.

* * *

Reading Rizal’s own writings brings out a more human and sympathetic figure buried in textbook history, fossilized in monuments of marble and bronze.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, amsterdam, Gideon Bible, Hashish, Joint, Jose Rizal, marijuana, Medicinal Use, Rizal, The Netherlands
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