Aiming for the Stars...

by Jean Quintero Hall


[May 1999 Issue]

Knowledge is power. We are the only ones who can acquire a perfect knowledge of our country, because we ... are informed of the secrets by the people by whom we have been raised.
-- Dr. Jose Rizal, Epistolario
Rizalino II, No.216

Rizal studied medicine and wrote Noli Me Tangere during his first trip to Europe, and returned home in August 1887. He was just beginning to savor the love and comforts of his family and home in Calamba, and to reap the first earnings from his medical profession when he was again forced to leave in February 1888. The Noli had been banned in the Philippines, and shortly after arriving in England, Rizal heard that the only Governor who sympathically listened to his cries for reforms, Governor General Terrero had been recalled by the Spanish government. His profound disillusionment was apparent in the letter he wrote his friend, Blumentritt in June: "Filipinos have lost the hope they have pinned on Spain! Now we await our fate from God ... but never any more from any government!"

An avid reader and a prolific correspondent, Rizal continued to receive devastating news. The friars' indignant reaction to the Noli and the famous "Anti-Friar Manifesto of 1888," a petition led by Marcelo del Pilar to oust the friars from the Philippines, had disastrous consequences as the friars' wrath raged on: the arrest and exile of Rizal's brothers-in-law; the burning down of several towns leaving many homeless; Spanish senators held sessions in Madrid condemning him and the Noli; and an unending barrage of articles denigrating the Filipinos appeared in Spanish newspapers. Outwardly stoical and determined, yet inwardly tormented by threats to his family's and other Filipinos' safety, he redoubled his efforts to educate his fellow countrymen.

The Noli had exposed the Filipinos' current condition. In search of materials that would serve to cement Filipino identity, he continued to focus on the past [see my March 1999 article]. Described by modern scholars as both "didactic" and "scientific" in his search for truth, Rizal considered questions dealing with the geological age of the Philippines and the types of people who first walked the land. With today's knowledge, the answers to these questions are at our fingertips: the globe is 4.5 billion-years-old; human beings walked the earth on two legs 1.5 million years ago. But Rizal's search would be frustrated, as we shall see, by several factors that hinged on mankind's progress.

Surmising that Philippine history must have begun hundreds or even thousands of years before Magellan set foot on the islands, Rizal was naturally consigned to look for ancient manuscripts produced after the invention of writing, which happened independently in several parts of the world around 3,000 B.C. For examples, Egyptian hieroglyphs (which Rizal learned to read and write) and the Sumerians' cuneiform evolved in the Middle East. What type of language did the Filipinos have during ancient times? Was that language ever put into written form? Were there samples of such writing preserved somewhere in the world? Paper, which facilitated the written record, was invented by the Chinese Tsai Lun in 105 A.D. Transplanted through India to the Arabs in 7th Century A.D., it is conceivable for Filipinos to have learned about paper and writing, especially when considering China's, India's and the Muslims' obvious influences on the islands. It is a commonly-held belief among the educated Filipinos that the Spaniards destroyed all the Filipinos' written works during their conquest of the Philippines. But if there were written materials to be destroyed, then there must have been some that survived destruction. To narrow the time frame of the search for a written record of an ancient Filipino language, Rizal needed to determine when the Philippines became known to other parts of the world. For this information, he consulted the ancient maps.

In the Reading Room, under the blue and gold dome of the British Museum, Rizal was assisted by the German Dr. Reinhold Rost, Librarian of the East India Office. As a foremost Malayan languages and customs scholar, Dr. Rost was a valuable resource. The relationship between Rizal and Rost culminated in a life-long collaborative search for Filipino origins -- a collaboration that would end in 1896 when both men died.

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created: September 1, 1999
updated: September 3, 1999
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger