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History for sale

/ 05:05 AM September 05, 2018

Imagine being a child and taking a pop quiz in Araling Panlipunan or HEKASI (HE-ograpiya, KA-saysayan, SI-bika) that requires writing “Kataastaasan Kagalanggalang na Katipunan nang manga Anak ng Bayan,” when you would rather remember Andres Bonifacio’s revolutionary society as the Katipunan or KKK, instead of K.K.K.A.N.B.

The above long form of the name of the Katipunan may be marked wrong, because some sources, Wikipedia included, say it’s “Kagalanggalangan” instead of “Kagalanggalang na” or plain “Kagalanggalang.” A pedagogy that forces students to memorize the national hero’s full Spanish name, when the hero himself signed off simply as “Rizal” or “Jose Rizal,” is a recipe for boredom, not an appreciation for history.

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History in the classroom can be animated by the open-ended, sometimes conflicting versions of the same story, thus sparking discussion. Sometimes teacher and pupil see the same past differently based on their age and background. For example, many students are familiar with the typical representation of the Katipunan initiation rites: a dark room in a bahay-kubo lit by a candle on a skull, on a table with a dagger, a quill, and a sheet of paper to sign a Katipunan oath with one’s blood. On the wall is a flag with a red field on which three white K’s are set; some of the Katipuneros are wearing hoods of white and red, with holes for the eyes and pointed tops—which the students may confuse with those worn by the white racist Ku Klux Klan!

These thoughts and memories came flooding back to us who took the trouble to view the “exceedingly rare and exceedingly important” historical documents up for auction at Leon Gallery this weekend. There is a collection of Katipunan papers, aside from original letters in the hand of Rizal and his common-law wife, who presumed to sign herself, “Josephine Rizal” to the discomfort of Teodora Alonso, the hero’s mother; the design for the revolutionary insignia in the hand of Juan and Antonio Luna; and sketches by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Luna.

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There are number of original printed forms I have only known from books: printed Katipunan membership form; printed oath form; and a printed form with three questions asked of people who wanted to join the Katipunan: “Ano ang kalagayan nitong Katagalugan nang unang panahon? (What was the state of the Philippines before the Spanish conquest?)”; “Ano ang kalagayan sa ngayon? (What is its state now?)”; “Ano ang magiging kalagayan sa darating the panahon? (What will its state be in the future?”

A Spanish version of this printed document was also available for those who chose to answer in the colonial language.

These documents have led some people ask about Bonifacio and the Katipunan’s concept of nation. Was it just for the Tagalogs? Or was it bigger than Katagalugan, covering other ethnolinguistic groups as stated in some explanatory footnote, in yet another printed document not included in this sale?

It has been suggested that the three questions above frame the history of the Philippines into a precolonial or pre-Spanish period in the past, their present under Spanish rule, and a future of self-determination and nationhood freed from the chains of colonial bondage. This view of history was proposed by Rizal in the most obscure of his three books, his 1890 version—profusely annotated—of Antonio de Morga’s “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (Events of the Philippine Islands),” first published in Mexico in 1609.

Another fascinating document is a handwritten oath form signed in the Katipunan cipher by a certain Nicasio Rafael, who took the Katipunan name “Kalap-Ate.” Textbook history says the Katipuneros made an incision on their left arm to draw blood, which was used to sign their oath. I have yet to see a document by an overzealous member who wrote the entire text in his blood.

Most important of the lots, based on its price estimate of P1.2 million, is a handwritten Katipunan Decalogue or “10 Commandments,” possibly by Bonifacio himself. Strange that it was not published in Bonifacio’s lifetime, considering they had a printing press; this inspired text is now taught to schoolchildren.

Some well-meaning but misguided social media posts suggest that all historical documents should be in museums, which already have more than they can handle. Auctions have drawn these items from hiding. Let the collectors preserve the expensive deteriorating originals; historians just need the content from a high-resolution scan.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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