Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

Rizal's Little Odyssey

Rizal, himself, was able to feel the effect of the Noli in his native land soon. He returns in the summer of 1887 via Munich, Stuttgart, Bern, Geneva and Marseilles, where he boards a ship to the Philippines. Only a few days after his arrival, Governor General Terrero receives him at the Malacañang Palace and tells him of the charges saying that the Noli was full of subversive ideas. After a discussion, the liberal Governor General appears to be appeased; but he is unable to offer resistance against the pressure of the church to take action against the book. The persecution can be discerned from Rizal's letter to Leitmeritz: "My book made a lot of noise; everywhere, I am asked about it. They wanted to anthemize me (to excommunicate me) because of it . . . I am considered a German spy, an agent of Bismarck, they say I am a Protestant, a free mason, a sorcerer, a damned soul. It is whispered that I want to draw plans, that I have a foreign passport and that I wander through the streets by night ..."

By that time, Blumentritt has long since perceived the situation from his own experience: "Your book must really be persecuted in the Philippine islands because Desengaños (pseudonym of Retana, a biographer of Rizal, writes, that it should be packed really well so that no one in the post office can recognize it ..."

Soon the friars' hunt is in full swing. They have ample ammunition against Rizal because he is not only persecuted on account of the Noli, but he is also accused by the Dominicans of being a heretic and an agitator for his intercession in favor of the tenant farmers in his hometown, Calamba. Rizal succeeds in putting up a fight for half a year, then the Governor General gives him the friendly advice of leaving the country because he can no longer keep his protective hand over Rizal or his family.

Tus, with a heavy heart, he has to leave his native land and once again begins his restless wandering. From Hongkong, Rizal describes to his friend, how the provincial order, with the archbishop at the top, dropped in almost everyday at the Governor-General in order to demand his arrest and condemnation. In the end, even strangers offered him money to depart, so that he would no longer pose a danger to friends, acquaintances and relatives by his presence.

And so begins Rizal's journey half way round the world, his "little odyssey". It is his second trip to Europe, but his first forced immigration, after being able to spend his years so far as student or physician abroad out of his own volition and full freedom. He communicates from Tokyo, where he is looked upon as a Japanese, who does not want to use his own language. Rizal praises the Japanese for their cleanliness, their honesty and their courteousness. He visits the most important cities of japan, Yokohama, Nara, Kyoto and gets involved in a love affair which makes it difficult for him to depart. After a 15-day ride on the steam ship "Belgic", he reaches San Francisco where he is kept in quarantine and is not allowed to go on land because there are several hundred Chinese on the ship. And for the reason that it is election time then and the people are against the mass immigration of the Chinese, the ruling party delays the disembarking of the Chinese. Rizal is allowed to go off board with the first class passengers only after a week.

Rizal boards a train in San Francisco and after a seven-day train ride, whose atmosphere reminds him of the wild west period, he arrives in New York. It takes him another eight days to cross the Atlantic before reaching London where he is able to begin corresponding with Ferdinand Blumentritt again.

Here a joyful surprise awaits him - Blumentritt propose that they finally address each other with the familiar form "du" (you), instead of the formal 'Sie" (Thou). Rizal is touched almost to tears; nevertheless, he rejects the proposal with embarassment. His Spanish feudalistic-patriarchial upbringing, which forbids the use of "du" even to parents prevents him from being on first name terms with the older and wiser Ferdinand Blumentritt. But he proposes to Blumentritt that he assume the position of the father-friend and to address him, the younger one, without hesitation, with "du" . But for his part, he cannot do it.

Yet as early as the next letter, the flexible Filipino has adapted himself to the custom. His letter speak of the bitterness of his actual expulsion from his country. He has given up the hope of obtaining reforms and freedom from Spain. "We will await our happiness from God and from ourselves, no longer from any government."

Despite the burden of his own problems and those of his country, he worries about the safety of his friend whose involvement with the Philippines could be harmful to him: "I am expressing to you my sincerest gratitude . . . but I would like to ask you to carry on the fight not on my account nor for my countrymen's account, but rather for the sake of truth. Furthermore, we can be detrimental to you, because we have bad qualities too . . . You would only gain the fame of having dared defend the weak and defenseless . . . Be as impartial as you are now . . . forget that we are friends, because I would be very sorry if you suffered anything on my account!"

As always, when Rizal writes while he is emotionally upset, he commits mistakes which do not do justice to his otherwise excellent German. At the end of the letter, he gives an ovation to Austria which deserves to be kept: "I believe I shall live my days in Austria. I want to retire there, if not in the Philippines, because it is an Austrian who loved and served my fatherland so much."

At the beginning of the year 1889, the indefatigable Rizal proposes a new plan to his friend: an international association of Phillippinologists must be established with its seat in Paris, where the world exposition is taking place this year, the ideal ground for an action to direct international attention to the problem of the Philippines. The vice-presidency should be assumed by the Frenchman Edmond Plauchut; the secretariat should be composed of Dr. Antonio Regidor (one of the few Spaniards who stood on the side of the Filipinos), Dr. Reinhardt Rost (the director of the library of the British Museum) and Rizal. That for the presidency, only Blumentritt was obviously eligible to all the parties involved.

The aims of the association were the study of the Philippines from the scientific and historical standpoint, the organization of international conferences, and the establishment of a Philippine library and museum.

Blumentritt apparently accepted immediately, because Rizal writes to him on January 31: " ... am expressing my warmest thanks to you in behalf of my fatherland for accepting the presidency ..." The agenda for the first convention was already set, the first registrations for membership were already done. Great interest prevailed among the Filipinos in exile and among the European and American scholars. No other qualification than an interest and the study of a special subject on the Philippine was required to become a member.

The beautiful dream was nevertheless never realized. The French authorities limited the number of conferences with international participation to some few with broad public interest. And the Philippinologists were at that time certainly not among these. Subsequent preparations miscarried because of the difficulties of coordinating appointments of the top-ranking members, Blumentritt included.

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