Rizal’s unread legacy | Inquirer Opinion
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Rizal’s unread legacy

Rizal’s unread legacy

Jose Rizal is a hero who was shot for two novels that nobody seems to have read. The physical books were quite rare in the hero’s lifetime, mere possession of them was considered subversive, and if you believed the rabidly religious, reading these would lead you to hell. Things are different today. Rizal’s writings are force-fed on students who study the novels, poetry, and a handful of essays not in the original Spanish, but in Filipino or English translations. Despite the law that requires college students to read the novels of Rizal, these are read in abridged form.

In 1961, the Jose Rizal National (Birth) Centennial Commission published the “Escritos de Rizal” series, a 25-volume compilation of the hero’s writings in the original languages as well as English and Tagalog translations. Some volumes were translated into the major Philippine languages. From these 25 unread volumes, those I found particularly interesting were two volumes entitled “Facsimiles de los Escritos de Rizal,” a compilation of Rizal manuscripts ranging from his student notebooks as an adolescent to the mature writer and patriot we know of him today. Arranged chronologically, one sees the development not only of Rizal’s penmanship but also the progress of his mind. Reproductions of his many notebooks reveal his skillful and sometimes witty drawings. The other volume often forgotten because of the focus on the novels is the “Escritos Varios” which puts together an assortment of his writings in different academic disciplines. It is here that most of his scientific papers are found.

In 1881-1882, Rizal was the secretary of the Academy of Philosophical and Natural Science founded by the rector of the Ateneo, Fr. Pablo Ramon, SJ. From the minutes taken by Rizal, it seems much of the discussions were on philosophy and its relation to natural science. Likewise, except for some demonstrations by Anacleto del Rosario, one of the eminent scientists of his day, what appears to be the only scientific item recorded in the minutes was a discussion, it seems, on the “three countries that claim the birth of the bicycle.”

Aside from this, there are numerous writings on linguistics, articles on the orthography of Tagalog, specimens of Tagalog folklore, the “Arte Metrica,” even a Spanish-English dictionary that he began, but left unfinished without even reaching the letter “B” of the alphabet. On history, he wrote some essays and the sarcastic and nationalistic footnote annotations to the 1609 “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas” by Antonio de Morga. While Rizal did not write an original historical work but a commentary, those stray notes represent the first Philippine history from the point of view of a Filipino. Perhaps, even the first Asian history is written from the point of view of an Asian.


A man of varied interests, Rizal also left some notes on education: “A study on town schools in the Philippines” and even the prospectus of a “colegio moderno” or modern college he had hoped to establish. There is a little-known treatise on the mangkukulam that the late psychiatrist and historian Dr. Luciano Santiago placed in the context of the development of psychiatry in the Philippines. This “Treatment of the Bewitched,” aside from its value to folklore, is an analysis of psychologically induced illness. It is unfortunate that a companion to this essay, an article on the “Sakhit Latar” or “Mali-mali” is not extant. Rizal took an interest in cartography and left us with a relief map of Mindanao in the town plaza of Dapitan and notes on it.

Rizal was one of the pioneer anthropologists because he studied the types of races, kept a collection of craniums, and even did some archeological digging. He dug up shards of Chinese porcelain in Dapitan and it was here that he also collected what the townspeople said were the teeth of lightning left in the ground when it struck. Rizal collected these and hypothesized that the polished stones were prehistoric or pre-Hispanic stone or flake tools. We are left with a list of shells collected by Rizal, some notes on snakes in the Philippines, and throughout his correspondence in Dapitan we read of specimens he collected, preserved, and sent to Germany.

He was a faithful customer of Alexander Schadenberg (a cofounder of the now-historic Botica Boie) who sent him jars and alcohol for preserving the specimens he collected. A winged lizard or Draco rizali was named after him as well as a frog, Racophorous rizali, better known scientifically as Polypedates paradalis, and a bug or beetle known as Apogonia rizali Heller. Rizali for the collector of the specimen and Heller for the taxonomic specialist who named this new species after the collector from Dapitan who sent dozens of specimens to Germany. Rizal also collected butterflies but made a mess of the specimens during capture and preservation such that he was sent needles and proper equipment together with detailed instructions into the best way of catching butterflies. Rizal also taught the people of Dapitan how to fish and left us with sketches of different species of fish that he classified scientifically.

On Rizal’s 163rd birthday, remember that we have a hero who wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him.

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