Friday, December 31, 2004

A Rizal cottage industry

A Rizal cottage industry

Updated 04:45am (Mla time) Dec 31, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the December 31, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

ANOTHER intriguing item in the Nov. 28, 2004 auction of the Philippine Numismatic and Antiquarian Society was a book reputed to be one of the last objects owned by Jose Rizal. Lot number 625 was described in the catalogue as follows:

"La imitacion de Cristo by Tomas de Kempis (1890). Published and printed by Libreria Religiosa, Barcelona in 1890. This religious book has a handwritten dedication addressed to Dr. Jose Rizal and was signed by Father Pastells. It was believed that the same book was given to Josephine Bracken just before he was executed in Luneta. Extremely rare. US$3,500."

If the above description is accurate, then this devotional work of which thousands of copies were printed gains particular emotional and historical significance to Filipinos. A photograph of the handwritten dedication of the Jesuit Pablo Pastells to Rizal in the catalogue can surely be authenticated by one of the following Jesuit historians: Fr. Jose Arcilla, Miguel Bernad and John Schumacher. If the signature is authentic and this book kept Rizal company in Fort Santiago during his last hours, then it is really something a collector will find irresistible. But then if this was the same book given to Josephine Bracken, where is the handwritten dedication by Rizal?

Years ago, I examined a copy of another "Imitacion de Cristo" with a handwritten dedication on the flyleaf that read, "To my dear and unhappy wife Josephine," signed and dated by Rizal on Dec. 30, 1896. This was in the possession of a daughter of the late Dr. Silvino Dayco and at the time it was the focus of a family quarrel. Since this was but one of a handful of books with the same dedication, I wasn't impressed, though this had collaborative proof: a letter from then National Library Director Teodoro M. Kalaw written in the 1930s requesting Dr. Dayco to lend the book to the library for an exhibit of Rizal memorabilia.

I have lost track of this book, but I am sure it will surface again someday at auction. At the moment, all I have is a vague memory of it and the pleasure of having handled the original sometime in my misguided youth.

The above led me to re-read the newspaper dispatches sent to Madrid from Manila in December 1896. The late Dr. Domingo Abella, former director of the National Archives, was a medical doctor who spent a lot of time in the libraries and archives of Spain and the United States researching on the history of Bicol. Being one of the early researchers in Spain, he was fortunate to catch a lot of rare Filipiniana in Spanish antiquarian booksellers. Among his prized acquisitions were four scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings on the Philippines from Madrid newspapers in the years 1896 and 1897. While contemporary historical research has shot holes into the accuracy of these newspaper accounts, one can still describe the material as "history in a hurry." With critical reading and some cross checking, one can find use for these nuggets of information. They are not a complete waste of time.

Abella published some of the dispatches concerning the execution of Rizal in the special 1961 Rizal issue of the Historical Bulletin and translated these from the original Spanish. Thus, we have the reports of two correspondents in Manila for the Madrid papers: Santiago Mataix of El Heraldo de Madrid and Manuel Alhama of El Imparcial. Life was indeed difficult in an age without e-mail. Correspondents had to write their copy in longhand and to evade the strict censorship in Manila, the dispatches were sent to Hong Kong from where they were cabled to Madrid.

I doubt much of the material dispatched on the day of execution, but this was the report sent in by Alhama that appeared in the newspapers early in 1897. It described Rizal as having gone to confession four times and, in apparent mood swings, he either told jokes or read a devotional book, giving the impression that he wasn't worried about his impending execution. Then we read:

"Josephine Bracken, Rizal's woman, was conducted to the chapel. Rizal, greatly moved, greeted her by extending his hand. A priest performed the marriage ceremony, at the end of which Rizal asked Josephine: 'And now, what will happen to you? What are you going to live on?'

"Josephine answered: 'I shall make a living by giving English lessons.'

"The lady was trying to suppress the emotion which she was feeling. Shortly after, Rizal expressed his wish to receive Holy Communion, which was administered to him by a Jesuit priest. He bade goodbye to his wife, and at the parting moment, he muttered some English words and asked her something in a low voice, to which she answered, 'Yes, yes.'

"When Josephine disappeared, Rizal, sobbing, threw himself into the arms of Father Faura [now better remembered as that dingy Manila street, Padre Faura]. Meanwhile, Josephine in the next compartment, stamping her feet furiously, was shouting: 'Miserables! Crueles..."'

Now, with some violin music in the background, you have enough material for a dramatic movie scene. No wonder there is so much romance and tragedy in Rizal's life and death. There is a lot of material to go on, many relics like devotional books sold at auction to keep the Rizal cottage industry churning for the next century. If only other heroes had as much documentation, our history would be more engaging.


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