Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

Of Chinese and Malays or the Versatile Scholar

The versatility of Blumentritt is revealed at first sight in his works which are still preserved. As a twenty-five-year old teacher of German, geography, and history at the classical secondary school, he publishes in 1879 the Tratado Anlonimo, about an uprising against Charles V of Spain. The work of an unknown contemporary, translated from Spanish by Blumentritt, gives an account of the uprising of the Junta Santa, the holy alliance in Segovia, on July 29, 1520. This association, the "comunidad" (with its members, the "comuneros") plots one of the first movements of the middle class against the nobility of Spain. Don Carlos, regent of Castille and Aragon, and born in Flanders, had incurred the enmity of the Spaniards when he apportioned the highest offices to his Flemish favorites, who, in addition, unexpectedly received defense aid for the comuneros in the person of the Walloon Archbishop of Toledo and Primas of Spain. Everything comes to a confrontation, when, after the death of Emperor Maximilian I on June 28, 1520, the twenty-year-old prince is crowned emperor (Charles V). The comuneros declare Segovia a republic and demand, in a written petition to the young emperor, some reforms to the constitution, which would mean the removal of the power of the aristocracy and the de facto administration of the cities by the comuneros. The grandees are alarmed; they see their privileges and properties in danger and press the Emperor to make a counter-attack. The short-lived freedom of the Republic of Segovia lasts from October 1520 to April 1521. Then the Emperor abolishes all the rights that had already been granted; despotism and reaction set in.

In his youth, Blumentritt already manifests his liberal democratic, if not altogether republican, tendencies, although there can be no doubt about his loyalty to the imperial family and to the fatherland, as the following (in the original text) proves:

The Picture of the Emperor

You are my sovereign . . . I look up to you,
Upwards on the wall, where from the picture
You glance down at me
Your eyes, oh yes, kind, gentle,
The eyes of a father, because that's what you are, are you not?
You are that, you are the father of millions,
Not just a bearer of your majestic crowns;
Regarding you, God did not inscribe the supreme power alone;
People do not want to fear, but love,
And these people, they love - why? You ask?
Oh, look at him, his countenance tells us more than the song of the minstrel could say about the concern,
about the anxiety - and the pain which have etched deep furrows on the brow of the Emperor.

Oh, that we must stay at a distance from him,
Tearfully I would like to kiss the creases,
The wrinkles which tell us how immensely he has suffered,
How he has fought for his empire's welfare
How the wound of the heart has never scarred for him
Since he saw him die in the new world, his brother,
Now then the heir of his throne
He had to bury him in this grave, this noble man
Beautiful of mind and body.
How, in a foreign country, a rogue slayed his lovely wife
I love you - not duty alone , guides me
I shall follow your flags obediently,
Not because the loyalty of the Teutons runs in my blood and compels me to be loyal;
No, but because, from your heart, from your wounds, a spring of love gushes, which has found its way into our breasts
Because you are dear to us: a man, even without a crown.
Thus I shall live for you as one of your loyal followers
And will fear neither privation nor death.
If you call us to protect your throne
And if, one day, they should bury me,
I shall want to have in the coffin, a portrait of the Emperor.

If, at the eleventh hour, Blumentritt had perhaps preferred the Philippine flag to the portrait of the monarch, this was not to the prejudice of his loyalty to the emperor.

A year after the Tratado (1880), Blumentritt publishes a treatise, The Chinese in the Philippines, which even today reads like a novel of adventure. It sketches the historically substantiated career of the Chinese pirate Limahon, who, in the year 1574, ploughs into the Philippines with a fleet of 200 ships and 10,000 men to conquer Manila. He almost succeeds with the coup de rrrairr. He has already gained a footing in several parts of the city; then he is driven back by the Spaniards. The pirate is able to escape clandestinely from the fatal attack. He dispatches an armada of small boats with baskets, which, from afar and in the brilliance of burning torches, looks like manned ships. While the Spaniards give chase to the supposed armada, Limahon is able to escape with his fleet. His camp with a private pagoda and a harem with 1,500 women is to be discovered later. Thereafter, Blumentritt gives an account of the peaceful development of the Chinese rnigration and the emergence of the Chinese district in Manila - Parian, with the cemetery of a unique quaintness which still exists today. The coffins of the dead are kept in regular villas and splendid country houses. Thus, nothing is denied the ancestors; they are provided for with cooking facilities, refrigerators, radios and television sets, yes, even with telephones. They can even go for a stroll in the garden enelosed by wrought-iron gates and fences. The ancestors can have a heart-to-heart talk with the surviving family on Sundays and holidays. And everyone is contented: the deceased, with the company and luxury afforded them, the living, with the fact that they acquired a week-end house cheaply, for the reason that since the houses on top of the tombs are considered mausoleums, therefore they are exempt from real estate taxes.

In effect, Blumentritt perceived and foresaw that the Chinese were never sure of their lives. Like the jews, they were - as they are up to now in many countries of Asia - exposed to persecutions, and like the jews, were met with hatred and envy because they were hardworking, clever merchants. But again and again they returned because, as Blumentritt so rightly declares about the Spaniards and the Filipinos, "one thing they knew was that without Chinese trade, without Chinese industry, the Philippines could not exist."

An inexhaustible source of the universal talent of Blumentritt is found in the year books of the Royal and Imperial Modern National Secondary School. What usually was a soporific record of such institurecord of such an institution, with its auditing reports, division of hours and pupil statistics, has developed into a colorful cycle of versatile subject matter, which, above all, raises the question of how Blumentritt, in addition to his duties as professor, and later as head master, which keeps him busy, was able to undertake such studies and researches. Here are just a few of such subjects:

The linguistic territories of Europe at the end of the Middle Ages compared with the conditions of the present time. Reflections on the linguistic frontiers and ethnographic concepts in the fifteenth century and at the end of the nineteenth century.

Manuscripts from the sixteenth century. The granting of the marketing rights to Baron Lobkowitz by Emperor Maximilian II and the market town of Lower Georgental (in the immediate vicinity of Leitmeritz) by Emperor Leopold I. Indentures of a sculptor from Prague to his apprentice.

Alphabetical List of the most commonly-used water color hues "prepared for the amateur". (Here Blumentritt narrates private and amusing stories from his youth about colors; as introduction, he gives a list of 800 colors together with their English, French, and Italian names).

Alphabetical list of school dissertations.

The major works, however, are the papers about the Philippines like, for instance, the first publication of the Catechism in the Ilonggot dialect (1893). Hardly 30 years old, and 4 years before his contact Jose Rizal, Blumentritt publishes in 1882 in Gotha an essay, which modestly entitles "Essay on Philippine Ethnography". Along with the essay is a map of the island empire, which is superior and accurate to the map of the Spanish colonial administration and which elicits universal admiration. And this, in spite of the fact that Blumentritt has never in his life set foot on Philippine soil. As early as this work, Blumentritt's partisanship for the Filipinos and against Spanish sovereignty is apparent. The manners and customs, traditions and cultural levels of 51 tribes are described in separate chapters.

Blumentritt on the degree of culture of the inhabitants: "... and that they are not as untalented as the Spanish priests would declare is proven not only by the fact that, besides their own language, they often speak two other dialects of the neighboring Malayas, but also by the fact that the Negritos, among the Malayan Irayas in Northeastern Luzon, were induced to settle and even to undertake agriculture ..."

"Alementary school education is compulsory. Each municipality has its school. Spanish is supposed to be the medium of instruction, which, however, up to very recently, has seldom been the practice outside the environs of Manila, since the friars have opposed, tooth and nail, the "Indios" (the name at that time for the Malayan inhabitants of Dutch Indies, Malaya, and the Philippines) acquisition of the Spanish language, because by this means, they would lose their middle-man role between the Spanish authorities and the Indios ... one marvels at the relatively great number of those who can read and write."

Blumentritt lives, works, acts and gives lectures for the Philippines; he suffers and rejoices with this country; he has built the Philippines, her atmosphere, her essence, her character, her customs, her habits, her language, around himself: ". . . he began to philippinize himself to such an extent that his palate adapted itself to the taste of the Philippine eater and his aesthetics to our art. Even the few Filipinos who paid him a personal visit could eat our favorite dishes at his table and admire products of our industry and the excellent works of our artists in his house, which was, so to speak, a Philippine museum. His library, his work-table, were full of books, brochures, periodicals, manuscripts, notes, all of which had something to do with the country of his choice. Everything breathed of Philippinism in his house. Even his little daughter answered to the name Loleng (the Philippine version of Dolores/Lola) ... one day, when his only daughter had reached the marriageable age, Blumentritt told me of a dream which he had the night before. In this dream, he had a conversation with a Filipino, the father of a young man, regarding a possible marriage of the latter with his daughter. He explained this dream further by saying that he, in fact, had really toyed with the idea of seeing his daughter Loleng married to a distinguished Filipino of excellent reputation. And like the father, Loleng too, shared his enthusiasm for everything Philippine." (Vida y Obras de Ferdinand Blumeritritt, Manila, 1914).

It turned out, however, differently. Dolores married a lawyer from Kufstein, Dr. Karl Pickert, who later became the publisher of the "Leitmeritzer Zeitung" (Leitmeritz Newspaper). Their son, Harald, a well-known painter, was imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Nazi time.

In the "Leitmeritzer Boten" (Leitmeritz Herald) of May 15, 1962 (published in Fulda, Federal Republic of Germany), Karl Hahnel, son of a grammar school professor, who served under the directorship of Blumentritt describes, according to the stories of his father, the position which Blumentritt held in his hometown: "The research work of Director Blumentritt was not considered as an eccentricity - today, one would say it was an idiosyncracy - possibly of a person with varied interests. On the contrary, it was so extraordinary that he made all the members of the teaching staff take part in it and talked about his successes freely. His letters often brought many exotic stamps, which he gave to my father. He often allowed others to take part in the things he loved in a totally unusual manner: He invited the teaching staff for breakfast in his official residence. During such breakfasts, he served culinary delights of unknown concoctions and offered very good wine. One of his specialties was the peculiar preparation of rabbits. Later I found again recipes by him for this preparation in the cookbook of my mother. Since my old man himself had a weakness for good cuisine, it was no wonder that rabbits were then kept at home, which often brought, besides pleasures to the palate, some pieces of fur clothing for the old winter months for us children."

An international convention was held in December,1961 in Manila in commemoration of the l00th anniversary of the birthday of the national hero, Jose Rizal. Among the official speakers was Irmtraud Webern, a daughter of the Dolores already mentioned and grand- daughter of Ferdinand Blumentritt: "I was still a child, when many of your prominent countrymen came to us in Leitmeritz. The best friend of my father was Jose Rizal. Everything in the house of my grandfather breathed of the spirit of the Philippines. During meals, Philippine food was served, there was a library full of books and manuscripts about your country. The whole house resembled a museum with its large collections of Philippine graphics and paintings. My mother answered to the name Loleng, the name which Rizal gave her. Jose Rizal loved her dearly and one of my cherished mementos is a birthday card of Rizal to his little Loleng. Blumentritt had such compassion and such love for the Philippines that it became almost a passion. In spite of the immense distance, he was fascinated by every event, by every person from the Philippines. Can you imagine what despair possessed our family when it received the news of the death of Jose Rizal? Of course, we knew of this tragedy only from the stories of our parents, but it has remained in our memory forever."

His former pupils remember Blumentritt as a somewhat small, highly spirited man, who made the lessons constantly enjoyable with anecdotes, amateur theatricals and drawings. "We liked him very much and always waited at the windows of the class room until we saw him hurrying towards the schools across the town square."
(From Leon Maria Guerrero's The First Filipino, Manila, 1977)

Ancarnacion Alzona, the translator of the collected correspondence between Rizal and Blumentritt, wrote in appreciation of Blumentritt's services, in the foreword of his (sic) work: "An active and energetic defender of the cause of the Philippines, he won the affection of all the Filipinos in Spain and became their ally, friend and adviser. Although he never visited the Philippines, he had at his disposal a remarkable knowledge of her history and culture, acquired through diligent searching and indefatigable studying, worthy of admiration. ... The calumniators of the Philippines attacked him because of his sympathy for the Philippines and on account of his open support of their fight. It was, however, impossible for them to deter him from it. He remained an honorable friend of the Philippines. The Filipinos have preserved for him a loving memento for his loyalty and faithfulness ... His name is henceforth inseparably linked with the name of our national hero."

The list of his awards and memberships to learned societies would do any "Who is who?" credit:

  • Royal Imperial Privy Councilor
  • Knight of the Royal Spanish Order of Isabela the Catholic
  • Honorary member of the Spanish-Philippine Society, Madrid
  • Member of the Royal Imperial Geographical Society, Vienna
  • Member of the Society for Commercial Geography, Madrid
  • Corresponding member of the Geographical Society, Madrid
  • Member of the Royal Institute for Language, Geography and
  • Ethnology of the Dutch Indies, The Hague
  • Member of the Society for Earth Studies, Amsterdam
  • Member of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Pre-History (Early History)
  • Member of the Geographical Society, Lima, Peru
  • Member of the Academy of History, Manila
  • Corresponding member and delegate of the Indo-Chinese Academic Society, Paris
  • Member of the Royal Spanish-Philippine Society of the Friends of the State, Madrid
  • Member of the Welcome Society, Tokyo
  • Owner of the gold medals of the Philippine exhibitions in Madrid, 1887, and at St. Louis, 1904
  • Member of the Royal Imperial Military Sciences Club of the Officers' Corps of the 29th Division, Theresa City (Theresien stadt)
  • Member of the Board of Examiners for aspirants of the one-year voluntary service

The list of the honors could mislead one to the view that Blumentritt was an introverted, eccentric scholar, who was always buried his archives, unworldly, and sullenly scornful of the provincialism his cramped native land. He was, however, abscilutely none of the things. According to the statements of his contemporaries, he remained always a natural, affectionate and unassuming person, sometimes given to melancholy moods, and often visited by illness which also made travelling difficult for him. Perhaps because of this he never sought the wide world, in spite of all his cosmopolitanism. He simply remained rooted to his cramped little native county, although with his knowledge and his prestige in the professional world, he could easily have assumed a position of authority in the big academic centers. He preferred to stay in his Leitmeritz and, as it were, influence the destiny of the world decisively from his study room - and not without far-reaching results either.

Nevertheless, he did not neglect taking care of his hometown. For years he was a member of the municipal council. "I take full interest in the agitation to overthrow the present city council because of its nepotism. I am writing articles for our local newspapers now ... "he writes in one of his letters.

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created: January 20, 1997
updated: March 28, 1998
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger