Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

by
Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

 
A Dossier

Ferdinand Blumentritt was born on September 10, 1853, in Prague and died on September 20, 1913, 10 days after his sixtieth birthday in Leitmeritz in Bohemia. His father, who had the same first name was born in Prague (1815) too, and died there in 1894 as a retired revenue official. His mother, the former Amalia Schneider, was a daughter of the imperial accountant, Andreas Schneider, from Vienna. Blumentritt finished secondary school in Prague, and obtained a degree in history and geography at the Karis-University of Prague, and at 24 came to Leitmeritz to become a professor in the non-classical secondary school, whose director he was from 1900 to 1910. So far, the career of Blumentritt did not differ from thousands of other officials in public education of the Austro-Hungarian nionarchy.

Strangely enough, a document of the Philippine Parliament (the so-called Philippine Assembly) sheds a light in the darkness. Published in 1914 in Manila under the title The Life and Works of Ferdinand Blumentritt, Blumentritt himself gives information about his ancestors:
"A story is told in my family, according to which the grandmother of my father is a descendant of the governor of the Philippines by the name of Alcazar. An aunt of my father was the widow of a Peruvian creole who met his death in the massacre at Ayacucho, that is, among the ranks of troops loyal to the government (The decisive battle of Ayacucho in Peru on December 9, 1824, between the troops of Bolivar and those of the Spanish viceroy, brought the end of the Spanish rule in South America). This aunt emigrated to Prague and I recovered in her house those impressions which determined my life: the love for the Spanish colonial world."

Blumentritt relates that he, hardly skilled in reading, made travelogues and historical works about Latin America and the Far East his favorite reading matter. His schoolmates called him the "Spaniard". "However, in order to be able to read these books in the original language, I had to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, English and Dutch, even though I was still small and had no teacher."

Blumentritt writes that, of all those peoples and countries, he was most interested in the Philippines. As a professor in Leitmeritz then, he was able to devote his attention fervently to the study of the archipelago of 7,000 islands. Humbly, Blumentritt kept secret his being an authority in Tagalog, the chief dialect recognized today as its national language. And he justifies, not only for the first time, nor for the last time, his political engagement for the Philippines: "Although my love for the country never incited me to separatist or anti-Spanish endeavors, the Spaniards and the resident monks in the Philippines attacked me vehemently. This persecution, these insults, could, nevertheless, not deter me from continuing the defense of the rights of the Philippines before the entire world."

Based on investigations, it is reported in the documentation of the Philippine Assembly that a representative of the Advocate General's branch at court martials (legal counsel in military courts), Andres Alcazar, in fact served as governor and attorney-general from February to December, 1616, during the absence and after the death of the Governor-General, Juan de Silva. This Alcazar might have been a forefather of Blumentritt. Thus the bow is drawn from the Philippines to Prague and Leitmeritz and through the friendship with Jose Rizal back to the Philippines.

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created: March 28, 1998
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger