Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Looking Back

Patron saint of fake news

Jose Rizal’s most quotable quote is not by Rizal: Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salitâ/Mahigit sa hayop at malansáng isdâ (He who does not love his own language, is worse than a beast and a stinking fish).

That quote, pulled out of “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” (1869), has been debunked years ago by National Artist Virgilio S. Almario and me, yet some people insist that the poem was written by Rizal at age 8, when he was way too young to have used the words “kalayaan” or “himpapawid”; known about the colonial condition and the concept of “sanlang kalayaan” (pawned freedom); or knew enough philology to compare Tagalog with Latin, Spanish and English.

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Bereft of arguments against the debunking, some have resorted to ad hominem attacks by calling us purveyors of falsehood, or attention-grabbers.

Fake news is not new. Fake news, or an early version of it, has been with us for a long time, and our history books are littered with some of them, like the Code of Kalantiaw, Princess Urduja, or the assertion that Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to save the Republic from communism. When fake news enter our educational system, they are like weeds or pesky teeth that are hard to pull out.

If history is based on written documents, it is in our prehistory that we have the most fun.

In December 1936, N.V.M. Gonzalez, future National Artist, published the first of four articles describing interesting books and manuscripts in the National Library. He saw something that I have only seen in photographs — a bark manuscript on which baybayin characters were written using squid or cuttlefish ink. The National Library director dated these manuscripts to the pre-Spanish period and hailed them as “the most important literary find in the country.” If true, and if they had survived the destruction that accompanied the Battle for Manila in 1945, these manuscripts would probably join the Laguna Copper Plate Inscription and the Calatagan Pot in the National Museum as extant examples of our pre-Spanish culture.

These manuscripts were brought to the library by a certain Jose E. Marco, who had written earlier to James Robertson as follows: “I have now in my possession three curious old manuscripts. I cannot state how old exactly, but they are written in pre-Spanish Visayan characters and according to the headman of the montescos in the mountains of the Island, he found them early in the fall of 1888 while doing some excavations in Camesana, the abode of Negritos. They were found sealed with beeswax in an earthen jar; the manuscripts had a special bamboo container and this, together with various articles, were sealed in the jar.”

Marco had acquired the manuscript from a certain Ygo Syka, a mountaineer, for P18, and traded this with some rare book duplicates of the National Library. These manuscripts were then framed and displayed till they were lost or destroyed during the war.

Marco beat all the academic historians and anthropologists at the time, who were all at a loss on how to transcribe and translate these bark manuscripts (ms). He said that: “A quick glance at these old Visayan writings reveals many interesting things. One ms tells about a certain Bathala Kabounyan and his experiences with wild animals, mentions a man named Yganan king of the mountains, honey bees and Mt. Kanlaon.

“The second ms is a verse form of a legend concerning a certain woman Loulay, who went through the ordeals of a strange if not altogether ridiculous marriage ceremony such as was presumably practiced in the Visayas long before the Spanish conquest.

“The third ms describes the Gods Panuinouan and the goddess Kasydlañgan who were united in wedlock by strange beings and had as sons Onak-Onak, Sylyk-Sylik, Tymaou, Maranhyg, and so forth. The ms also relates the origin in the Visayas of witches and sorcerers and similar things which actually never existed except in the minds of the people; and it ends with a bird-list and ample account of folklores. On the reverse we find the story of Kuan or a Jouhan Piscoung which I have not been able to scrutinize yet.”

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Then there was a fantastic story about an idol in a cave in Negros where Marco pulled off one of the horns that contained these documents. Marco, not Mocha, is the patron saint of fake news, and he has given historians many headaches.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: fake news, Jose Rizal, Philippine history
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