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Looking Back

The only way to know Rizal is to read Rizal

/ 04:07 AM October 23, 2019

Germany is a country associated with Rizal, who had such a high regard for its people and culture that he made an effort to learn the language and make the most of his stay. While undertaking specialization in eye surgery in Heidelberg, Rizal spent his free time completing the “Noli me tangere,” published in Berlin in 1887. He also practiced and improved on his German by doing translations: Friedrich Schiller’s “William Tell” from the original German to Tagalog, as well as five tales by Hans Christian Andersen from a German edition that he rendered into Tagalog, along with charming drawings to engage his nephews and nieces.

All of these unread writings of Rizal are readily available in books first published in 1961 by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, and continually reprinted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines today. Still, despite the availability of the material, my box is filled with daily requests from desperate students who are not being taught how to properly conduct research in a library with physical books, or even online with Google Scholar. These students often invite me to chat or ask me to do their assignment, something I would never have done when I was their age.

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Our Department of Education should definitely look into the way history is imparted and see to it that students are encouraged to do research by themselves, read by themselves, and learn how to form their own conclusions before contacting an author or academic to request answers to questions easily found in books or on the internet. It is unfortunate that Rizal wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him. We even have a Rizal course, required by law, for all college students that is not delivering the content, much less the ideas and ideals, of the national hero seen in the context of the emergence of nation.

During my recent visit to Germany I reread Rizal’s letters to his family to get a sense of what his life was like then. On March 11, 1886, for example, he wrote home:

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“The German language is becoming clearer to me. It no longer seems to me so obscure and difficult as at the beginning. I hope that within five months I’ll speak it like Spanish. I’m afraid that I may forget the latter language, for until the present, since I arrived in Germany, I haven’t found anyone who knows Spanish. On the other hand, I spoke Tagalog once with a German who stayed a long time at Singapore and who spoke Malay. Although we couldn’t understand each other very well, nevertheless I encountered many words similar to Tagalog.

“Now I lead an entirely different life from what I had lately. I eat outside. The house with service costs me 28 marks — this is 7 pesos, each mark being worth 2 reales Fuertes. Breakfast served at the house costs me 40 pfennigs, I lunch [at] the restaurant; for 2 reales 18 cuartos they give me soup, three dishes, dessert, and wine, besides potatoes, salad, cabbage and other vegetables, for it must be noted that German cooking is all full of vegetables and many things mixed together. At night I buy two small rolls which cost three cuartos, cheese, fruits, and a piece of sausage or butter. All in all, the heating, light, laundry, room, and food cost me some 30 pesos a month or a little less. Add to these expenses the cleaning… etc. so that for 40 pesos one can live well in Germany, if one doesn’t have to buy clothes and to travel from time to time.

“At the hospital I practice and examine patients who come every day. The professor corrects our mistakes in diagnosis; I help in the treatment and although I don’t see so many operations as I did at Paris, here I study more the practical side. If I receive sufficient money in April or May, I intend to enroll in a regular course in ophthalmology either in Leipzig, Halle, or Berlin. God willing, I don’t intend to remain in Germany longer than until November at most in order to go afterward to England in December and remain there during the spring of 1887…”

The only way to know Rizal is to read Rizal, preferably in the original languages he wrote in: Spanish, German, French, Italian, English and Tagalog. He left some stray notes in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Japanese, too.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Josel Rizal, Looking Back, reading Rizal
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