Ferdinand Blumentritt: An Austrian Life for the Philippines

Harry Sichrovsky (1983/87)

The "Morga"

Rizal was not content with writing books to rouse his countrymen in a literary, political and polemic manner and to mobilize them for the fight for their rights. He dug into classical literature, works of former travellers and earlier Spanish government officials in order to use their writings for his objectives. Thus, he came upon the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (Events in the Philippine Islands). Its author, Dr. Antonio de Morga, held the offices of lawyer and soldier in the services of the Spanish colonial administration in the Philippines and published his work in 1609 in Mexico. In the course of the centuries, the "Morga" earned for itself the reputation of being one of the best dissertations on the pre-Spanish history of the Philippines with the special advantage that its author - in contrast to most authors of historical and ethnographic works of the time - was not a man of the Church, not a priest, but rather a Spanish civil servant.

Rizal's intention of publishing the "Morga" anew and adding to it lengthy annotations was clear. He wanted to prove, by means of a reputable work, that the people of the Philippines did possess a high level of culture and morality before the arrival of the Spaniards, did have a mastery of a distinct handicraft art (as perhaps in ship construction), did develop a flourishing trade and did maintain a good contact with the outside world. Knowledge of their own past should strengthen the self-confidence of his countrymen and promote their political and scientific growth.

Rizal explains in his introduction to the "Morga" that he got the inspiration while he was working on the Noli, that is, by depicting the actual situation of the Philippines. The very influence of the Noli convinced him that it was necessary to know the past fully in order to understand the present. With the knowledge and appreciation of yesterday, one can arm one's self for tomorrow.

Of course, Blumentritt was delighted by the idea and enthusiastically made every effort to support him with it by wanting to give his contribution too. Rizal naturally accepted this offer with much joy but with the condition that Blumentritt should proceed with the work and not from Rizal's person. "My greatest request is," Rizal asks, "write the foreword as if you were not fond of me, as if you did not know me. Criticize what you do not like, commend what you find true ..."

Blumentritt might have done this because some weeks later Rizal wrote: "I like the foreword very much and (I am) touched; it is written with the head and the heart, I am thanking you very much for it ..."

Was it mere politeness or sincere gratitude that made Rizal talk this way? Because his friend was, in fact, not sparing in his criticisms. The scholar Blumentritt was not altogether happy with the historical manner of presentation of Rizal. Rizal was much too impulsive, too committed to portray the past, as he himself said "cold-bloodedly and as an impartial judge." Rizal wanted to point out, above all, three things with the publication: firstly, that the Filipinos possessed an independent culture before the arrival of the Spaniards; secondly, that the Filipinos were decimated, demoralized, exploited and ruined by the Spanish civilization; and thirdly, the condition achieved, the importation of Spanish civilization did not necessarily, and certainly not in all spheres of interest, bring to the Philippines an improvement or a higher niveau. Indeed as earlier said, Blumentritt could not approve the work of his friend completely. "My profound appreciation of your work cannot stop me from confessing that more than once I have discovered your mistake, which many modern historians commit: interpreting events in the past in the light of contemporary ideas. This is not correct. The historian must not expect the broad horizon of ideas which move the l9th century from the men of the l6th century."

This, however, did not stop Blumentritt from writing the foreword to the "Morga" which the present most prominent Philippine biographer of Rizal, Leon Ma. Guerrero, describes as "excellent" and who, moreover, holds the view that it was Blumentritt who selected the "Morga" for Rizal to re-publish. Blumentritt describes Morga's work as the best account of the conquest of the Philippines by the Spaniards, yet the work has become so rare thaf the few libraries which have it guard their copy like an Inca treasure. Blumentritt would not be Blumentritt if he had not taken the opportunity to take up in a broadly compartmentalized analysis practical problems of the region which we call today the "third world." Thus, he begins with the analysis of the attitude of the Europeans towards the colored peoples in general and the attitude of the Spaniards towards the Filipinos in particular.

At the beginning, the Europeans assessed the colored people as children with limited intelligence; whence the Spaniards derived the right to exploit them. On the other hand, the French idealists led by Rousseau believed that the colored people, the romantic "red people", should be taken under fatherly protection and treated with patience, their vices, as well. Both were mistaken.

In the next period, Blumentritt observed that, the Europeans condemned the atrocities wrhich other Europeans commit on the natives; the English condemned the Spaniards, the Germans accused the Portuguese, the Dutch accused the French - but each one kept his own excesses a secret. Then in the modern era of democracy - as Blumentritt courageously, described his time almost a hundred years ago - the new European generation learned to see the colored peoples in the light of equal rights.

Blumentritt thereupon goes into the special features of the Philippine situation: Here is an Asian nation which adopted a European religion, is exposed to European culture and uses a European language as a common means of communication. The objective is assimilation into the mother country. Yet, the reforms needed for that are stopped, above all, by the friars and the Spanish bureaucrats.

Apparently, Blumentritt believed that the friars were ready to compromise, namely, out of consideration that they - independent of the destiny of the Philippines - would always remain friars of their orders, even in other countries, wherever the head of the order would send them. At the same time Blumentritt perceived the inconsistency of the situation of the friars. Through the demand of the radical Filipinos for the expulsion of the friars, the friars would be pushed into a corner from which they could choose only between capitulation or resistance. Naturally, they chose resistance in the form of embittered opposition against all reforms. This gave the radicalism of the Filipinos further impetus and accelerated the subversion of the colonial empire which the friars thought would precisely stop with their resistance.

Blumentritt analyzes three elements of the Spanish policy in the Philippines which he claims are wrong in principle: firstly, the racial arrogance of the Spaniards who still regard and treat the Filipinos as an inferior race because of their flat noses and brown complexion; secondly, the belief that the Filipinos are not yet ready for a representation in the parliament and for other reforms; and, thirdly, under the title of strict application of the laws which nevertheless means nothing but a codification of the abuse of power, the refusal to grant equal rights to the Filipinos.

Blumentritt attaches in the resume the wish that the Spaniards learn from the new "Morga" copy, giving the following admonition:
"If then they still do not listen to the Filipinos, then they will lose the Philippines thrciugh their own fault. They assert that they are of noble birth but they do not know how to make a prudent policy and they fear separatist ideas but at the same time force the Filipinos to seek their salvation in the revolution."

As a scholarly work, the "Morga" never attained the popularity of the two novels of Rizal. Nevertheless, above all, among the groups of cultural and scientific intelligentsia of Madrid and Manila, the book aroused attention. It is reported that the small edition was soon out of print and copies were later sold at twice the original selling price.

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