I have always been an admirer of Dr. Jose Protacio ‘Rizal’ Mercado y Realonda or simply Jose Rizal. I was 7 years old when I first heard his name…it was part of our history lesson of course to learn first and foremost the ‘nationals’ – national tree, national flower, national anthem, national fruit, national bird, national animal…and of course national hero. However, it was in my 2nd year in college when I truly began to appreciate our national hero and I have been a great admirer of him since then.
A lot of people question the choice of Jose Rizal as the Philippines’ national hero simply because he was not involved in the ‘Himagsikan’ (revolution) or that he didn’t take up arms like many of our national heroes like Andres Bonifacio. However, as my Rizal professor (sorry sir but I completely forgot your name) once said, Rizal may not have taken up arms like Bonifacio but his influence through his writings, discourses and other peaceful means, extends beyond age, borders and culture. Rizal was an intellectual. He is one of the few people in this world that can claim to be both a polymath (a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas) and a polyglot – someone with a high degree of proficiency in several languages. Although many of the scientists in the past are polymathic…few intellectuals can claim to be polyglot. Now, we call people who speak 2 languages (like most Filipinos – English & Pilipino) as bilingual; we call someone who speaks 3 languages as trilingual (some Filipino are such – English, Pilipino then either Spanish, Japanese or Chinese); and we call people who speak more than 3 languages but not more than 6 multi-lingual. Polyglots are conversant and fluent in more than 6. Rizal, however, is conversant in 20 languages and 7 local dialects.
Aside from his many intellectual prowess (he was an inventor, an opthalmologist, a scientist, a philosopher, a writer, an ardent traveler, a poet, and an artist), Rizal also lived a very interesting and colorful life. I have always wondered why when they make a movie out of his life they always center on his political exploits or they sought to put color into this part of his life when in fact Rizal’s life is already as adventurous and colorful as anyone could ever wish life to be.
His life is one of the most documented of the 19th century largely because vast and extensive records made by and about him. Most everything in his short life is recorded somewhere, being himself a regular diarist and prolific letter writer, much of these material having survived.
His European friends kept almost everything he gave them, including doodlings on pieces of paper. In the home of a Spanish liberal, Pedro Ortiga y Pérez, he left an impression that was to be remembered by his daughter, Consuelo. In her diary, she wrote of a day Rizal spent there and regaled them with his wit, social graces, and sleight-of-hand tricks. In London, during his research on Morga’s writings, he became a regular guest in the home of Dr. Reinhold Rost of the British Museum who referred to him as “a gem of a man.” The family of Karl Ullmer, pastor of Wilhelmsfeld, and the Blumentritts saved even buttonholes and napkins with sketches and notes. They were ultimately bequeathed to the Rizal family to form a treasure trove of memorabilia.
However, being incurable romantics as the Filipinos are, we are greatly fascinated by his many loves. Historians like to called them “Rizal’s dozen” when it fact there were only 9 women with home our national hero was linked to. And in order of their connection with Rizal they were:
Segunda Katigbak was his puppy love; Rizal’s first love. She was from a prominent family from Lipa, Batangas and was sent at an early age to study at the best school in Manila at the time – the Colegio de la Concordia. There she became friends and classmates with Rizal’s sister Olimpia. Rizal became very infatuated with her and wrote her many romantic letters. Unfortunately, his first love was not to be because Segundwas engaged to be married to a town mate- Manuel Luz.
Rizal wrote of his first love: “Ended at an early hour, my first love! My virgin heart will always mourn the reckless step it took on the flower-decked abyss. My ilusions return, yes, but indifferent, uncertain, ready for the first betrayal on the path of love”.
Leonor Valenzuela After his admiration for a short girl in the person of Segunda, then came Leonor Valenzuela, a tall girl from Pagsanjan. Rizal send her love notes written in invisible ink (salt dissolved in water) that could only be deciphered over the warmth of the lamp or candle. He visited her on the eve of his departure to Spain and bade her a last goodbye.
Leonor Rivera, his sweetheart for 11 years played the greatest influence in keeping him from falling in love with other women during his travel. Unfortunately, Leonor’s mother disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with Rizal, who was then a known filibustero (someone who goes against the norms, a radical, a free-thinker; during the time of the Spaniards a filibustero in the Philippines is someone who goes against the teaching of the catholic church). She hid from Leonor all letters sent to her sweetheart. Leonor believing that Rizal had already forgotten her, sadly consented her to marry the Englishman Henry Kipping, her mother’s choice.
Consuelo Ortiga y Rey, the prettier of Don Pablo Ortiga’s daughters, fell in love with him. He dedicated to her A la Senorita C.O. y R., which became one of his best poems. The Ortiga’s residence in Madrid was frequented by Rizal and his compatriots. He probably fell in love with her and Consuelo apparently asked him for romantic verses. He suddenly backed out before the relationship turned into a serious romance, because he wanted to remain loyal to Leonor Rivera and he did not want to destroy his friendship with Eduardo de Lete who was madly in love with Consuelo.
Seiko Usui (affectionately called by Rizal as Osei-san)
Osei-san, a Japanese samurai’s daughter taught Rizal the Japanese art of painting known as sumi-e. She also helped Rizal improve his knowledge of Japanese language. If Rizal was a man without a patriotic mission, he would have married this lovely and intelligent woman and lived a stable and happy life with her in Japan because the Spanish legation there offered him a lucrative job.
While Rizal was in London annotating the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, he boarded in the house of the Beckett family, within walking distance of the British Museum. Gertrude, a blue-eyed and buxom girl was the oldest of the three Beckett daughters. She fell in love with Rizal. Tottie helped him in his painting and sculpture. But Rizal suddenly left London for Paris to avoid Gertrude, who was seriously in love with him. Before leaving London, he was able to finish the group carving of the Beckett sisters. He gave the group carving to Gertrude as a sign of their brief relationship.
Rizal having lost Leonor Rivera, entertained the thought of courting other ladies. While a guest of the Boustead family at their residence in the resort city of Biarritz, he had befriended the two pretty daughters of his host, Eduardo Boustead. Rizal used to fence with the sisters at the studio of Juan Luna. Antonio Luna, Juan’s brother and also a frequent visitor of the Bousteads, courted Nellie but she was deeply infatuated with Rizal. In a party held by Filipinos in Madrid, a drunken Antonio Luna uttered unsavory remarks against Nellie Boustead. This prompted Rizal to challenge Luna into a duel. Fortunately, Luna apologized to Rizal, thus averting tragedy for the compatriots. Their love affair unfortunately did not end in marriage. It failed because Rizal refused to be converted to the Protestant faith, as Nellie demanded and Nellie’s mother did not like a physician without enough paying clientele to be a son-in-law. The lovers, however, parted as good friends when Rizal left Europe.
In 1890, Rizal moved to Brussels because of the high cost of living in Paris. In Brussels, he lived in the boarding house of the two Jacoby sisters. In time, they fell deeply in love with each other. Suzanne cried when Rizal left Brussels and wrote him when he was in Madrid. – “After your departure, I did not take the chocolate. The box is still intact as on the day of your parting. Don’t delay too long writing us because I wear out the soles of my shoes for running to the mailbox to see if there is a letter from you. There will never be any home in which you are so loved as in that in Brussels, so, you little bad boy, hurry up and come back….
In the last days of February 1895, while still in Dapitan where he was exile on his return to the Philippines, Rizal met an 18-year old petite Irish girl, with bold blue eyes, brown hair and a happy disposition. She was Josephine Bracken, the adopted daughter of George Taufer from Hong Kong, who came to Dapitan to seek Rizal for eye treatment. Rizal was physically attracted to her. His loneliness and boredom must have taken the measure of him and what could be a better diversion that to fall in love again. But the Rizal sisters suspected Josephine as an agent of the friars and they considered her as a threat to Rizal’s security.
Rizal asked Josephine to marry him, but she was not yet ready to make a decision due to her responsibility to the blind Taufer. Since Taufer’s blindness was untreatable, he left for Hon Kong on March 1895. Josephine stayed with Rizal’s family in Manila. Upon her return to Dapitan, Rizal tried to arrange with Father Antonio Obach for their marriage. However, the priest wanted a retraction as a precondition before marrying them. Rizal upon the advice of his family and friends and with Josephine’s consent took her as his wife even without the Church blessings. Josephine later gave birth prematurely to a stillborn baby, a result of some incidence, which might have shocked or frightened her. Some historian claim that it was Rizal playing a joke on his pregnant wife which her to miscarriage however this claim was very verified. He named the baby ‘Francisco’ after his father and buried him in a lot outside their home in Dapitan.
…..I have decided that I will stop here for now, Rizal’s life is much too complicated and comprehensive for me to be able to do justice to our national hero in just one writing so I shall stop here now….and tackle his other exploits in my next blog…