Chapter IV: Rizal's Early Childhood
Jose Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonzo Realonda, the seventh child of Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandro and his wife, Teodora Morales Alonzo Realonda y Quintos, was born in Kalamba, June 19, 1861.
He was a typical Filipino, for few persons in this land of mixed blood could boast a greater mixture than his. Practically all the ethnic elements, perhaps even the Negrito in the far past, combined in his blood. All his ancestors, except the doubtful strain of the Negrito, had been immigrants to the Philippines, early Malays, and later Sumatrans, Chinese of prehistoric times and the refugees from the Tartar dominion, and Spaniards of old Castile and Valencia-representatives of all the various peoples who have blended to make the strength of the Philippine race.
Shortly before Jose's birth his family had built a pretentious new home in the center of Kalamba on a lot which Francisco Mercado had inherited from his brother. The house was destroyed before its usefulness had ceased, by the vindictiveness of those who hated the man-child that was born there. And later on the gratitude of a free people held the same spot sacred because there began that life consecrated to the Philippines and finally given for it, after preparing the way for the union of the various disunited Chinese mestizos, Spanish mestizos, and half a hundred dialectically distinguished "Indians" into the united people of the Philippines.
Jose was christened in the nearby church when three days old, and as two out-of-town bands happened to be in Kalamba for a local festival, music was a feature of the event. His godfather was Father Pedro Casanas, a Filipino priest of a Kalamba family, and the priest who christened him was also a Filipino, Father Rufino Collantes. Following is a translation of the record of Rizal's birth and baptism: "I, the undersigned parish priest of the town of Calamba, certify that from the investigation made with proper authority, for replacing the parish books which were burned September 28, 1862, to be found in Docket No. 1 of Baptisms, page 49, it appears by the sworn testimony of competent witnesses that Jose Rizal Mercado is the legitimate son, and of lawful wedlock, of Don Francisco Rizal Mercado and Dona Teodora Realonda, having been baptized in this parish on the 22d day of June in the year 1861, by the parish priest, Rev. Rufino Collantes, Rev. Pedro Casanas being his godfather."-Witness my signature.
Jose Rizal's earliest training recalls the education of William and Alexander von Humboldt, those two nineteenth century Germans whose achievements for the prosperity of their fatherland and the advancement of humanity have caused them to be spoken of as the most remarkable pair of brothers that ever lived. He was not physically a strong child, but the direction of his first studies was by an unusually gifted mother, who succeeded, almost without the aid of books, in laying a foundation upon which the man placed an amount of well-mastered knowledge along many different lines that is truly marvelous, and this was done in so short a time that its brevity constitutes another wonder.
At three he learned his letters, having insisted upon being taught to read and being allowed to share the lessons of an elder sister. Immediately thereafter he was discovered with her story book, spelling out its words by the aid of the syllabary or "caton" which he had propped up before him and was using as one does a dictionary in a foreign language.
The little boy spent also much of his time in the church, which was conveniently near, but when the mother suggested that this might be an indication of religious inclination, his prompt response was that he liked to watch the people.
To how good purpose the small eyes and ears were used, the true-to-life types of the characters in "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo" testify.
Three uncles, brothers of the mother, concerned themselves with the intellectual, artistic and physical training of this promising nephew. The youngest, Jose, a teacher, looked after the regular lessons. The giant Manuel developed the physique of the youngster, until he had a supple body of silk and steel and was no longer a sickly lad, though he did not entirely lose his somewhat delicate looks. The more scholarly Gregorio saw that the child earned his candy money-trying to instill the idea into his mind that it was not the world's way that anything worth having should come without effort; he taught him also the value of rapidity in work, to think for himself, and to observe carefully and to picture what he saw.
Sometimes Jose would draw a bird flying without lifting pencil from the paper till the picture was finished. At other times it would be a horse running or a dog in chase, but it always must be something of which he had thought himself and the idea must not be overworked; there was no payment for what had been done often before. Thus he came to think for himself, ideas were suggested to him indirectly, so he was never a servile copyist, and he acquired the habit of speedy accomplishment.
Clay at first, then wax, was his favorite play material. From these he modeled birds and butterflies that came ever nearer to the originals in nature as the wise praise of the uncles called his attention to possibilities of improvement and encouraged him to further effort. This was the beginning of his nature study.
Jose had a pony and used to take long rides through all the surrounding country, so rich in picturesque scenery. Besides these horseback expeditions were excursions afoot; on the latter his companion was his big black dog, Usman. His father pretended to be fearful of some accident if dog and pony went together, so the boy had to choose between these favorites, and alternated walking and riding, just as Mr. Mercado had planned he should. The long pedestrian excursions of his European life, though spoken of as German and English habits, were merely continuations of this childhood custom. There were other playmates besides the dog and the horse, especially doves that lived in several houses about the Mercado home, and the lad was friend and defender of all the animals, birds, and even insects in the neighborhood. Had his childish sympathies been respected the family would have been strictly vegetarian in their diet.
At times Jose was permitted to spend the night in one of the curious little straw huts which La Laguna farmers put up during the harvest season, and the myths and legends of the region which he then heard interested him and were later made good use of in his writings.
Sleight-of-hand tricks were a favorite amusement, and he developed a dexterity which mystified the simple folk of the country. This diversion, and his proficiency in it, gave rise to that mysterious awe with which he was regarded by the common people of his home region; they ascribed to him supernatural powers, and refused to believe that he was really dead even after the tragedy of Bagumbayan.
Entertainment of the neighbors with magic-lantern exhibitions was another frequent amusement, an ordinary lamp throwing its light on a common sheet serving as a screen. Jose's supple fingers twisted themselves into fantastic shapes, the enlarged shadows of which on the curtain bore resemblance to animals, and paper accessories were worked in to vary and enlarge the repertoire of action figures. The youthful showman was quite successful in catering to the public taste, and the knowledge he then gained proved valuable later in enabling him to approach his countrymen with books that held their attention and gave him the opportunity to tell them of shortcomings which it was necessary that they should correct.
Almost from babyhood he had a grown-up way about him, a sort of dignity that seemed to make him realize and respect the rights of others and unconsciously disposed his elders to reason with him, rather than scold him for his slight offenses. This habit grew, as reprimands were needed but once, and his grave promises of better behavior were faithfully kept when the explanation of why his conduct was wrong was once made clear to him. So the child came to be not an unwelcome companion even for adults, for he respected their moods and was never troublesome. A big influence in the formation of the child's character was his association with the parish priest of Kalamba, Father Leoncio Lopez.
The Kalamba church and convento, which were located across the way from the Rizal home, were constructed after the great earthquake of 1863, which demolished so many edifices throughout the central part of the Philippines.
The curate of Kalamba had a strong personality and was notable among the Filipino secular clergy of that day when responsibility had developed many creditable figures. An English writer of long residence in the Philippines, John Foreman, in his book on the Philippine Islands, describes how his first meeting with this priest impressed him, and tells us that subsequent acquaintance confirmed the early favorable opinion of one whom he considered remarkable for broad intelligence and sanity of view. Father LeoncÃo never deceived himself and his judgment was sound and clear, even when against the opinions and persons of whom he would have preferred to think differently. Probably Jose, through the priest's fondness for children and because he was well behaved and the son of friendly neighbors, was at first tolerated about the convento, the Philippine name for the priest's residence, but soon he became a welcome visitor for his own sake.
He never disturbed the priest's meditations when the old clergyman was studying out some difficult question, but was a keen observer, apparently none the less curious for his respectful reserve. Father Leoncio may have forgotten the age of his listener, or possibly was only thinking aloud, but he spoke of those matters which interested all thinking Filipinos and found a sympathetic, eager audience in the little boy, who at least gave close heed if he had at first no valuable comments to offer.
In time the child came to ask questions, and they were so sensible that careful explanation was given, and questions were not dismissed with the statement that these things were for grown-ups, a statement which so often repels the childish zeal for knowledge. Not many mature people in those days held so serious converse as the priest and his child friend, for fear of being overheard and reported, a danger which even then existed in the Philippines.
That the old Filipino priest of Rizal's novels owed something to the author's recollections of Father Leoncio is suggested by a chapter in "Noli Me Tangere." Ibarra, viewing Manila by moonlight on the first night after his return from Europe, recalls old memories and makes mention of the neighborhood of the Botanical Garden, just beyond which the friend and mentor of his youth had died. Father Leoncio Lopez died in Calle Concepcion in that vicinity, which would seem to identify him in connection with that scene in the book, rather than numerous others whose names have been sometimes suggested.
Two writings of Rizal recall thoughts of his youthful days. One tells how he used to wander down along the lake shore and, looking across the waters, wonder about the people on the other side. Did they, too, he questioned, suffer injustice as the people of his home town did? Was the whip there used as freely, carelessly and unmercifully by the authorities? Had men and women also to be servile and hypocrites to live in peace over there? But among these thoughts, never once did it occur to him that at no distant day the conditions would be changed and, under a government that safeguarded the personal rights of the humblest of its citizens, the region that evoked his childhood wondering was to become part of a province bearing his own name in honor of his labors toward banishing servility and hypocrisy from the character of his countrymen.
The lake district of Central Luzon is one of the most historic regions in the Islands, the May-i probably of the twelfth century Chinese geographer. Here was the scene of the earliest Spanish missionary activity. On the south shore is Kalamba, birthplace of Doctor Rizal, with Binan, the residence of his father's ancestors, to the northwest, and on the north shore the land to which reference is made above. Today this same region at the north bears the name of Rizal Province in his honor.
The other recollection of Rizal's youth is of his first reading lesson. He did not know Spanish and made bad work of the story of the "Foolish Butterfly," which his mother had selected, stumbling over the words and grouping them without regard to the sense. Finally Mrs. Rizal took the book from her son and read it herself, translating the tale into the familiar Tagalog used in their home. The moral is supposed to be obedience, and the young butterfly was burned and died because it disregarded the parental warning not to venture too close to the alluring flame. The reading lesson was in the evening and by the light of a coconut-oil lamp, and some moths were very appropriately fluttering about its cheerful blaze. The little boy watched them as his mother read and he missed the moral, for as the insects singed their wings and fluttered to their death in the flame he forgot their disobedience and found no warning in it for him. Rather he envied their fate and considered that the light was so fine a thing that it was worth dying for. Thus early did the notion that there are things worth more than life enter his head, though he could not foresee that he was to be himself a martyr and that the day of his death would before long be commemorated in his country to recall to his countrymen lessons as important to their national existence as his mother's precept was for his childish welfare.
When he was four the mystery of life's ending had been brought home to him by the death of a favorite little sister, and he shed the first tears of real sorrow, for until then he had only wept as children do when disappointed in getting their own way. It was the first of many griefs, but he quickly realized that life is a constant struggle and he learned to meet disappointments and sorrows with the tears in the heart and a smile on the lips, as he once advised a nephew to do.
At seven Jose made his first real journey; the family went to Antipolo with the host of pilgrims who in May visit the mountain shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Safe Travel. In the early Spanish days in Mexico she was the special patroness of voyages to America, especially while the galleon trade lasted; the statue was brought to Antipolo in 1672.
A print of the Virgin, a souvenir of this pilgrimage, was, according to the custom of those times, pasted inside Jose's wooden chest when he left home for school; later on it was preserved in an album and went with him in all his travels. Afterwards it faced Bougereau's splendid conception of the Christ-mother, as one who had herself thus suffered, consoling another mother grieving over the loss of a son. Many years afterwards Doctor Rizal was charged with having fallen away from religion, but he seems really rather to have experienced a deepening of the religious spirit which made the essentials of charity and kindness more important in his eyes than forms and ceremonies.
Yet Rizal practiced those forms prescribed for the individual even when debarred from church privileges. The lad doubtless got his idea of distinguishing between the sign and the substance from a well-worn book of explanations of the church ritual and symbolism "intended for the use of parish priests." It was found in his library, with Mrs. Rizal's name on the flyleaf. Much did he owe his mother, and his grateful recognition appears in his appreciative portrayal of maternal affection in his novels.
His parents were both religious, but in a different way. The father's religion was manifested in his charities; he used to keep on hand a fund, of which his wife had no account, for contributions to the necessitous and loans to the irresponsible. Mrs. Rizal attended to the business affairs and was more careful in her handling of money, though quite as charitably disposed. Her early training in Santa Rosa had taught her the habit of frequent prayer and she began early in the morning and continued till late in the evening, with frequent attendance in the church. Mr. Rizal did not forget his church duties, but was far from being so assiduous in his practice of them, and the discussions in the home frequently turned on the comparative value of words and deeds, discussions that were often given a humorous twist by the husband when he contrasted his wife's liberality in prayers with her more careful dispensing of money aid.
Not many homes in Kalamba were so well posted on events of the outside world, and the children constantly heard discussions of questions which other households either ignored or treated rather reservedly, for espionage was rampant even then in the Islands. Mrs. Rizal's literary training had given her an acquaintance with the better Spanish writers which benefited her children; she told them the classic tales in style adapted to their childish comprehension, so that when they grew older they found that many noted authors were old acquaintances. The Bible, too, played a large part in the home. Mrs. Rizal's copy was a Spanish translation of the Latin Vulgate, the version authorized by her Church but not common in the Islands then. Rizal's frequent references to Biblical personages and incidents are not paralleled in the writings of any contemporary Filipino author.
The frequent visitors to their home, the church, civil and military authorities, who found the spacious Rizal mansion a convenient resting place on their way to the health resort at Los Banos, brought something of the city, and a something not found by many residents even there, to the people of this village household. Oftentimes the house was filled, and the family would not turn away a guest of less rank for the sake of one of higher distinction, though that unsocial practice was frequently followed by persons who forgot their self-respect in toadying to rank.
Little Jose did not know Spanish very well, so far as conversational usage was concerned, but his mother tried to impress on him the beauty of the Spanish poets and encouraged him in essays at rhyming which finally grew into quite respectable poetical compositions. One of these was a drama in Tagalog which so pleased a municipal captain of the neighboring village of Paete, who happened to hear it while on a visit to Kalamba, that the youthful author was paid two pesos for the production. This was as much money as a field laborer in those days would have earned in half a month; although the family did not need the coin, the incident impressed them with the desirability of cultivating the boy's talent.
Jose was nine years old when he was sent to study in Binan. His master there, Justiniano Aquino Cruz, was of the old school and Rizal has left a record of some of his maxims, such as "Spare the rod and spoil the child," "The letter enters with blood," and other similar indications of his heroic treatment of the unfortunates under his care. However, if he was a strict disciplinarian, Master Justiniano was also a conscientious instructor, and the boy had been only a few months under his care when the pupil was told that he knew as much as his master, and had better go to Manila to school. Truthful Jose repeated this conversation without the modification which modesty might have suggested, and his father responded rather vigorously to the idea and it was intimated that in the father's childhood pupils were not accustomed to say that they knew as much as their teachers. However, Master Justiniano corroborated the child's statement, so that preparations for Jose's going to Manila began to be made. This was in the Christmas vacation of 1871.
Binan had been a valuable experience for young Rizal. There he had met a host of relatives and from them heard much of the past of his father's family. His maternal grandfather's great house was there, now inhabited by his mother's half-brother, a most interesting personage.
This uncle, Jose Alberto, had been educated in British India, spending eleven years in a Calcutta missionary school. This was the result of an acquaintance which his father had made with an English naval officer who visited the Philippines about 1820, the author of "An Englishman's Visit to the Philippines." Lorenzo Alberto, the grandfather, himself spoke English and had English associations. He had also liberal ideas and preferred the system under which the Philippines were represented in the Cortes and were treated not as a colony but as part of the homeland and its people were considered Spaniards.
The great Binan bridge had been built under Lorenzo Alberto's supervision, and for services to the Spanish nation during the expedition to Cochin-China-probably liberal contributions of money-he had been granted the title of Knight of the American Order of Isabel the Catholic, but by the time this recognition reached him he had died, and the patent was made out to his son.
An episode well known in the village-its chief event, if one might judge from the conversation of the inhabitants-was a visit which a governor of Hongkong had made there when he was a guest in the home of Alberto. Many were the tales told of this distinguished Englishman, who was Sir John Bowring, the notable polyglot and translator into English of poetry in practically every one of the dialects of Europe. His achievements along this line had put him second or third among the linguists of the century. He was also interested in history, and mentioned in his Binan visit that the Hakluyt Society, of which he was a Director, was then preparing to publish an exceedingly interesting account of the early Philippines that did more justice to its inhabitants than the regular Spanish historians. Here Rizal first heard of Morga, the historian, whose book he in after years made accessible to his countrymen. A desire to know other languages than his own also possessed him and he was eager to rival the achievements of Sir John Bowring.
In his book entitled "A Visit to the Philippine Islands," which was translated into Spanish by Mr. Jose del Pan, a liberal editor of Manila, Sir John Bowring gives the following account of his visit to Rizal's uncle:
The Philippines had just had a liberal governor, De la Torte, but even during this period of apparent liberalness there existed a confidential government order directing that all letters from Filipinos suspected of progressive ideas were to be opened in the post. This violation of the mails furnished the list of those who later suffered in the convenient insurrection of '72.
An agrarian trouble, the old disagreement between landlords and tenants, had culminated in an active outbreak which the government was unable to put down, and so it made terms by which, among other things, the leader of the insurrection was established as chief of a new civil guard for the purpose of keeping order. Here again was another preparation for '72, for at that time the agreement was forgotten and the officer suffered punishment, in spite of the immunity he had been promised.
Religious troubles, too, were rife. The Jesuits had returned from exile shortly before, and were restricted to teaching work in those parishes in the missionary district where collections were few and danger was great. To make room for those whom they displaced the better parishes in the more thickly settled regions were taken from Filipino priests and turned over to members of the religious Orders. Naturally there was discontent. A confidential communication from the secular archbishop, Doctor Martinez, shows that he considered the Filipinos had ground for complaint, for he states that if the Filipinos were under a non-Catholic government like that of England they would receive fairer treatment than they were getting from their Spanish co-religionaries, and warns the home government that trouble will inevitably result if the discrimination against the natives of the country is continued.
The Jesuit method of education in their newly established "Ateneo Municipal" was a change from that in the former schools. It treated the Filipino as a Spaniard and made no distinctions between the races in the school dormitory. In the older institutions of Manila the Spanish students lived in the Spanish way and spoke their own language, but Filipinos were required to talk Latin, sleep on floor mats and eat with their hands from low tables. These Filipino customs obtained in the hamlets, but did not appeal to city lads who had become used to Spanish ways in their own homes and objected to departing from them in school. The disaffection thus created was among the educated class, who were best fitted to be leaders of their people in any dangerous insurrection against the government.
However, a change had to take place to meet the Jesuit competition, and in the rearrangement Filipino professors were given a larger share in the management of the schools. Notable among these was Father Burgos. He had earned his doctor's degree in two separate courses, was among the best educated in the capital and by far the most public-spirited and valiant of the Filipino priests.
He enlisted the interest of many of the older Filipino clergy and through their contributions subsidized a paper, El Eco Filipino, which spoke from the Filipino standpoint and answered the reflections which were the stock in trade of the conservative organ, for the reactionaries had an abusive journal just as they had had in 1821 and were to have in the later days.
Such were the conditions when Jose Rizal got ready to leave home for school in Manila, a departure which was delayed by the misfortunes of his mother. His only, and elder, brother, Paciano, had been a student in San Jose College in Manila for some years, and had regularly failed in passing his examinations because of his outspokenness against the evils of the country. Paciano was a great favorite with Doctor Burgos, in whose home he lived and for whom he acted as messenger and go-between in the delicate negotiations of the propaganda which the doctor was carrying on.
In February of '72 all the dreams of a brighter and freer Philippines were crushed out in that enormous injustice which made the mutiny of a few soldiers and arsenal employes in Cavite the excuse for deporting, imprisoning, and even shooting those whose correspondence, opened during the previous year, had shown them to be discontented with the backward conditions in the Philippines.
Doctor Burgos, just as he had been nominated to a higher post in the Church, was the chief victim. Father Gomez, an old man, noted for charity, was another, and the third was Father Zamora. A reference in a letter of his to "powder," which was his way of saying money, was distorted into a dangerous significance, in spite of the fact that the letter was merely an invitation to a gambling game. The trial was a farce, the informer was garroted just when he was on the point of complaining that he was not receiving the pardon and payment which he had been promised for his services in convicting the others. The whole affair had an ugly look, and the way it was hushed up did not add to the confidence of the people in the justice of the proceedings. The Islands were then placed under military law and remained so for many years.
Father Burgos's dying advice to Filipinos was for them to be educated abroad, preferably outside of Spain, but if they could do no better, at least go to the Peninsula. He urged that through education only could progress be hoped for. In one of his speeches he had warned the Spanish government that continued oppressive measures would drive the Filipinos from their allegiance and make them wish to become subjects of a freer power, suggesting England, whose possessions surrounded the Islands.
Doctor Burgos's idea of England as a hope for the Philippines was borne out by the interest which the British newspapers of Hongkong took in Philippine affairs. They gave accounts of the troubles and picked flaws in the garbled reports which the officials sent abroad.
Some zealous but unthinking reactionary at this time conceived the idea of publishing a book somewhat similar to that which had been gotten out against the Constitution of Cadiz. "Captain Juan" was its name; it was in catechism form, and told of an old municipal captain who deserved to be honored because he was so submissively subservient to all constituted authority. He tries to distinguish between different kinds of liberty, and the especial attention which he devotes to America shows how live a topic the great republic was at that time in the Islands. This interest is explained by the fact that an American company had just then received a grant of the northern part of Borneo, later British North Borneo, for a trading company. It was believed that the United States had designs on the Archipelago because of treaties which had been negotiated with the Sultan of Sulu and certain American commercial interests in the Far East, which were then rather important.
Americans, too, had become known in the Philippines through a soldier of fortune who had helped out the Chinese government in suppressing the rebellion in the neighborhood of Shanghai. "General" F. T. Ward, from Massachusetts, organized an army of deserters from European ships, but their lack of discipline made them undesirable soldiers, and so he disbanded the force. He then gathered a regiment of Manila men, as the Filipinos usually found as quartermasters on all ships sailing in the East were then called. With the aid of some other Americans these troops were disciplined and drilled into such efficiency that the men came to have the title among the Chinese of the "Ever-Victorious" army, because of the almost unbroken series of successes which they had experienced. A partial explanation, possibly, of their fighting so well is that they were paid only when they won.
The high praise given the Filipinos at this time was in contrast to the disparagement made of their efforts in Indo-China, where in reality they had done the fighting rather than their Spanish officers. When a Spaniard in the Philippines quoted of the Filipino their customary saying, "Poor soldier, worse sacristan," the Filipinos dared make no open reply, but they consoled themselves with remembering the flattering comments of "General" Ward and the favorable opinion of Archbishop Martinez.
References to Filipino military capacity were banned by the censors and the archbishop's communication had been confidential, but both became known, for despotisms drive its victims to stealth and to methods which would not be considered creditable under freer conditions.