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Historical materials coming out of the woodwork

Many years ago I would visit Paz Raymundo, widow of National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino, in her home on Retiro Street in Sampaloc, Manila, to explore in the artist’s studio and study many of the remaining original plaster pieces to get an idea of his creative process.

In that studio was a large home-made telescope that Tolentino made to study the stars and, perhaps, indulge in amateur astronomy and astrology. Also in the studio were “aportes” or objects that fell from the air during the regular séances held in the house, the climax of the activities of the Union Espiritista Cristiana de Filipinas, of which Tolentino was a founding member.

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My visits often ended with a home-cooked merienda of Tolentino’s favorite chicken and tomato sauce pasta. Noodles were served steaming, each strand glistening from a generous knob of salted butter added before serving.

Of those pleasant visits one is worth remembering. Tolentino’s widow once brought me into the living room and asked if I noticed anything new. I pointed to the bright floral curtains, which she proudly claimed as her very own. She had sewn them herself, so she showed me the patterns or “padron” she had cut from thick blue print paper she had found in a cupboard. Upon closer inspection I realized that she had cut up, for curtain patterns, the blueprints for Bonifacio monument in Caloocan, that iconic masterpiece that had given the spot its name—“Monumento.” Raymundo was surprised at my loss, saying those old bits of paper made very good curtain patterns. I managed to retrieve only one of the blueprints that had not been cut up, and she said why didn’t you tell me you wanted those?

This is but one of the many stories (I have gathered over the years) that will make historians pull out their hair because of the loss of irreplaceable historical documents and artifacts. I recalled many instances of myself handling historical documents as I evaluated the original Rizal documents and memorabilia in the Lopez Museum and Library two years ago. Most of the Rizal manuscripts in the Lopez Museum are letters addressed collectively to his family or to individual family members.

These are doubly significant because Rizal, in a letter to his sister Maria, from Madrid, dated Dec. 30, 1882, instructed her to “keep all my letters in Spanish that begin with ‘Mis queridos padres y hermanos’ because in them I relate all that is happening; when I return, I shall put them together and make them clearer.” That Rizal considered some letters more important than others, that he implied that some letters had to be preserved, suggest that some letters could be discarded—or, perhaps, even destroyed—after reading.

Teodoro A. Agoncillo’s description of Rizal as a “conscious hero,” as one who knew and carved his place in Philippine history, gains renewed credence when put in the context of Rizal compiling and editing the primary source material that has come down to us after his death.

The Lopez Collection forms part of Rizal’s correspondence first compiled, arranged chronologically, and published by Teodoro M. Kalaw, director of the National Library of the Philippines, as the “Epistolario Rizalino.” This compilation, five volumes in six books, appeared between 1930 and 1938.

Rizal’s letters were reorganized and supplemented in 1961 by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission (JRNCC), which published them in four volumes in eight books: “Correspondence with Family” (two books); “Correspondence with Colleagues in the Propaganda Movement” (two books); “Correspondence with Ferdinand Blumentritt” (three books); and “Miscellaneous Correspondence,” which contained Rizal’s letters that could not be classified (one book).

Contrary to popular belief, the JRNCC volumes do not contain Rizal’s complete correspondence as known in 1961, because at least 49 letters were missing; 38 of these are extant and now form part of the Lopez Collection of Rizaliana.

In 1953, according to Jose P. Apostol, in his introduction to “One hundred letters of Jose Rizal to his parents, brother, sisters, relatives,” the National Library was unable to acquire a cache of original Rizal letters offered to the government for half a million pesos. Furthermore, the National Library could not even afford the P25,000 asked by the seller for the right to make photostatic reproductions of the collection.  Fortunately, Eugenio Lopez Sr. acquired, in 1955, most of these letters from the original cache, except 11 that were sold to two other collectors who presently remain unlocated.  These letters now form the core of the Lopez Collection of Rizaliana.

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Luis Montilla, in 1959, wrote that the National Library had prepared a compilation of these letters to form volume six and  supplement the prewar “Epistolario Rizalino,” but the library was directed to postpone its publication, which was to be undertaken by the JRNCC that inadvertently left out 38 of the letters in the Lopez Collection.

I used to think that I knew almost all that there is to know about Rizal. I used to presume that all but a handful of Rizal documents are known to us and published already. My work in the Lopez Museum proves that so much more remains to be discovered.

I may be looking to retirement from university in a few years, but it seems materials that have not been destroyed by neglect or the elements are coming out of the woodwork to the delight of historians and their public.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Guillermo tolentino, Jose Rizal
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