Rizal’s book exchange
Two years ago I took a train from Berlin to Dresden to visit the bodega of the Ethnographic Museum where some 19th-century artifacts from the Philippines were kept. The name of Alexander Schadenberg appeared repeatedly in the catalogues and the inventory cards for the Philippine objects, which was not surprising because this German pharmacist who settled in the Philippines and died in Vigan in 1896 was the main contact for museums and scholars in Germany and Austria. My research trip to Dresden was in search, not of Schadenberg, but of another scholar named Adolf B. Meyer, who maintained a correspondence with Jose Rizal while the hero was exiled in Dapitan in 1892-1896.
Fortunately, my efforts were not in vain because the building where the bodega was located is named in honor of Meyer. On the shelves were an assortment of things: human skulls, a painted wax bust showing the features of a 19th-century Pinoy, even a scrapbook with text in Visayan that I could not understand. Ethnographic objects from Schadenberg made up much of the collection: baskets, knives, etc., and some stuffed animals and preserved reptiles and bugs from various parts of the Philippines.
Of course, the highlight of my trip was finding and handling some objects sent by Rizal from Dapitan that included a bladed weapon and some brass artifacts of unknown use. To calm the fears of the curator, I explained my stand on repatriation: Unlike some rabid nationalists who insist that these Philippine objects were “stolen” and should be returned to the country, I believe that if these objects were in the Philippines they would have deteriorated as a result of the climate and pest attacks. If they were in the prewar National Museum, they would probably have been looted or destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945. These objects have survived and are well preserved abroad, so why make it an issue?
The Rizal collection in Dresden—and, I have been told, also in Berlin—take on an added significance when viewed in the context of the correspondence between the hero and Meyer. For example, on Oct. 24, 1893, Rizal wrote:
“Through the kindness of Dr. Schadenberg I have the pleasure to send you a little collection of reptiles, crustaceans, coleopteran [a beetle?] that you will find named on the labels of the jars. I had a larger collection: a tortoise, … birds, etc. but for lack of suitable containers they were eaten by rats. The expense of this remittance is more or less twelve pesos on account of the difficulty here of obtaining alcohol and jars. I have to get the alcohol from the drugstore and it is still of poor quality. I have written to Dr. Schadenberg asking him for alcohol and jars for they certainly cost less at Manila and in that way the cost of remittance would be very cheap.
“I should like to know if you want the skeletons of the mammals mounted or joined. I have also my own collection of seashells of more than 200 species, already classified and arranged. Do you want it? How much would they give me for it? They are all shells of the district of Dapitan. I have no rifles yet.”
Rizal collected these specimens with his students and took time to identify and classify them. This explains why a species of winged lizard (Draco rizali), a frog (Rhacophorous rizali) and a bug (Apogonia rizali) are named after Rizal. It is also interesting to note that Rizal didn’t ask for cash in exchange for these specimens but wanted payment in books. In his letter of Nov. 20, 1893, he wrote Meyer:
“By the mail boat of last month I sent you a box of preserved animals through Dr. Schadenberg at Manila in accordance with your suggestion. The animals I sent you were the following: Three snakes, talig-bilao (Dupog), one sagita volans, one sea horse, two scorpions, two ascarides, various coleoptera, one boa constrictor, one iho, one Iwo, one ataybia, (serpent), one kalasagan, one tipuso, one inagudlog, one kabankaban.
“As their cost is very little and the remittance of small sums is difficult, I beg you not to bother about it and in exchange just send me the following works in the Spemann collection at one mark a bound volume…” According to the list, Rizal requested two volumes of Aeschylus, four volumes of Sophocles, one volume of Ossians gedichte, one volume of Furgenjew (Iwan) Vater and Sohn, one volume of Furgenjew Rauch, three volumes of V Serie Bismarck als Redner, and the following: Furgenjew (Iwan) Neoland, Rnazewsky (T.T.) Der dichter and die Welt, the complete works of Gogol (in German), Valadimer Korolenko, and Danilewsky.
He then said: I would prefer that all the books be bound. If there should be any other work of some Russian writer that I do not know, I would appreciate it if you would send it to me.
Of the books in his wish list, Rizal received: Gogol, Turgenev, Bismarck, Danilewsky, Sophocles and Aeschylus.
As late as 1894, Rizal was still writing about specimens and books in exchange, saying: “Henceforth, I shall send you what I can; you will appraise it and you send me its equivalent in scientific and literary works. When I have more freedom, I will look for skulls of mountain people for you.”
Lesser men would have taken exile in Dapitan badly and become depressed. Rizal turned his exile into something more productive for him and the community.
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