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Looking Back

Rizal’s own ‘Animal Farm’

Of Rizal’s many unfinished works, the one known as “Los Animales de Suan” [Suan’s Animals] is intriguing because it predates George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1946).

Orwell set his famous story in a place called Manor Farm, renamed Animal Farm after a successful revolt of the animals that drove out all the humans. The leader of the animals in Orwell’s work is a pig named Napoleon, while that in Rizal’s story is a pig named “Botiok.”

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The original copy in Rizal’s hand is preserved at the National Library, and, according to scanty records, was acquired from Epifanio de los Santos before the war. It measures 19.5 x 16.5 cms, comprising 15 sheets of 16 pages with writing in ink, the last five pages being the drafts for the same story.

Rizal opens the story in a farm where an efficient farmhand named Suan takes charge of healthy and productive animals. One day, for some unknown reason, the animals turn sickly. Egg production drops, the turkeys lose the sheen in their feathers and the other animals grow visibly thin. This is inexplicable, as there is no epidemic in the farm or nearby.

The narrator, born on St. Solomon’s Day, has the gift of understanding the language of animals, so he climbs and hides at the top of a makopa tree to eavesdrop and find out what is wrong with the animals. Listening intently, he discovers that animals, like humans, have a social structure of their own. At the top of the social pyramid is the great grand pig, named Botiok, who has been castrated two years earlier, and is scheduled for slaughter to adorn the Christmas table as lechon (roasted pig).

Botiok bullies the other farm animals to obey him: “We, the pigs, are the superior race; everyone else is inferior. Who’ll deny it? None of you has a snout as long and mobile as ours.”

A turkey counters with: “Ticaticatoccatoc!” Translated to human language, it means, “But we have a long and hanging red chest!”

Botiok replies: “But you don’t have our broad ears.”

“But we have a beard,” adds another turkey.

Unimpressed, Botiok declares: “Of course you have a chest and beard, but you don’t enjoy the high honor of having been touched by Suan, our God and Lord. You aren’t consecrated, that is, you aren’t castrated like us; in this, you are inferior!”

A hen interrupts, cackling: “But there are also castrated roosters!”

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Unfortunately for us, Rizal’s work abruptly ends here, leaving us to a thousand speculations instead of one meaning had it been completed.

Orwell’s fable alludes to the failure of totalitarianism by showing Napoleon the pig living off the toil of the other farm animals. Later, he would start walking on his hind legs, entertaining the very same humans they had booted out of Animal Farm, and who return to buy the produce of the animals.

Orwell showed that the line that divides the pigs from men had been blurred, while Rizal’s anti-clerical story seems to lead to the conclusion that the line that divided pigs from friars was blurred in the same way. While the last five pages of the manuscript are drafts of the same work, not substantially different from the polished version, the main character Suan is renamed in the draft as Siloy.

Although undated, this manuscript must have been written in Madrid, circa 1884-1886, because on the reverse of folio 15, Rizal wrote text that obviously comes from “Noli me tangere,” which was just beginning to take shape in his mind: “El patio de Capitan Tiago. Capitan Tiago tenia una casa muy grande. Muchas criados y mucho dinero para jugar el gallo y pagar misas solemnes. Pero…”[The Patio of Capitan Tiago. Capitan Tiago had a very big house. Many servants and lots of money to bet in the cockfights and pay for solemn masses. But…”]

The rest of the text is crossed out and illegible. Could this be part of the “Noli”? Or was it a draft for another unfinished work, “El Rumboso Gobernadorcillo” (The Showy Gobernadorcillo)? Rizal used and reused the backs of blank paper to jot down notes, working on unrelated thoughts or simply trying out ideas that eventually found their proper places in the completed “Noli me tangere.”

How Rizal’s animal fable would have turned out, we will never know. But it is one of the what-ifs that keeps research in Rizal Studies alive and lively 157 years after he was born.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Animal Farm, George Orwell, Jose Rizal, Looking Back, Los Animales de Suan
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