Amok is a word that often comes up when the parricide case of Juan Luna comes up in conversation. It is often said that Luna, who was tried for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law, was acquitted because he caught his wife having an affair with another man, that his actions were justified when the case was framed as a “crime of passion.” It is also said that Luna’s acquittal was based on race, that as a Filipino, he was prone to running amok that makes for temporary insanity due to anger or extreme jealousy. Researching on the case as reported in the Spanish press of the time, I found a number of references to amok and how it would figure in the trial.
From the newspaper La Iberia of Sept. 27, 1892, barely a week since the crime from Paris was reported in Madrid, “The Crime of the Painter Luna” appeared. It opened with details on the autopsy on Juliana Gorricho, the mother-in-law, and a report on the condition of the wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, who was mortally wounded. A letter of support signed by many Spanish painters was made public and convinced many in the Spanish community in Paris that Luna’s crime was motivated by jealousy. It reported that the French paper Le Soir published a chronology of the crime and flattering phrases on the suspect was described as a “notable artist, full of vigor and originality.” It was said that the jury sitting in judgment on Luna at the court would look at a crucifix in the hall and remember the words from the gospel: “He will be forgiven a lot because he has loved a lot.”
It then reported on a new twist in the case:
“A new aspect. It is still not possible to form an exact judgment in the drama whose principal actor is an artist who enjoys just fame and renown. The different reports published and the many contradictory details that appear in them makes the terrible truth not entirely known. Some newspapers now talk of a congenital disease in the oceanic races called amok, a fleeting madness of short enough duration to unleash the passions calmed by the sweet pleasure of revenge.
“Taking into account that Luna is Filipino by ancestry and by nature, nothing is easier to suppose, nor anything more plausible that he was a victim of an attack of amok. This can be corroborated by the declarations of the witnesses that saw Luna furious, completely crazy, calm in the short moments after he consummated this sad work.
“The same affirms that he was not in his right senses in some moments. The psychologists of the positivist school can do marvels of observation in this tragic case. Luna is an artist, a dreamer all feeling and heart, and who, in addition, must carry within himself the germ of a terrible disease that does not kill reason, but rather obscures it so that when returning to real life it is worth greater and more bloody pains of atonement.”
In another Spanish newspaper, the amok angle is again explored:
“I want to present today the sympathetic Filipino artist, who enjoys great esteem among locals and foreigners, as an indio salvaje, who kills with premeditation and thus satisfies his revenge; To see in Luna, a man of kind and affable character, the type of the forest dweller who hides his bitterness to better ensure the terrible blow, is in my opinion the work of passion or the effect of unjustified prevention.
“In any case, it is important not to distort opinion, and for this there is nothing more effective than waiting for the case to finish, which must clarify all the facts, while studying the terms that the problem offers. And to this end, it occurs to me to note the importance that the examination of ethnic data of extraordinary value must be acquired in this process.
“I don’t know Luna personally but people who have dealt with him intimately appreciate his affectionate, kindly, and extremo simpatico character. With these antecedents how do we understand Luna’s conduct?
“… Was Luna crazy? Not before the commission of the crime, not today according to the news. Could he have been crazy in the moments of the crime? As if nothing that to be explained but a passion provoking madness. These reflections came to me when I remembered events of a similar nature from oceanic countries. The people who live in these know that it is frequent, the commission of crimes not inspired by criminal intent, nor are they explained except by complete cerebral disturbance. It is not many years since my illustrious colleague Dr. Samoa observed in Manila an unfortunate soldier who during his sentry duty fired his weapon against his companions causing many victims. It is a passing madness.”
Amok was brought up by the defense in Luna’s trial. How much of it led to the acquittal we will never know. More research into the primary sources will clarify the blind spots in this fascinating story.
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