An homage to José Rizal
In today’s post I honor José Rizal, conceived by many people as the beloved national hero of the Philippines.
Four years ago on MLK Day 2016, right after the US presidential election, I was in massage school and we were asked the attendance question of who are our heroes? I named Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and José Rizal—And there’s much to say about these men of knowledge and wisdom who have shined the light of their intelligence on human dignity through clear and beautiful words and speech! They all faced political exile for it. However, today I choose to focus on José Rizal, as a lesser known hero.
What are the marks of a revolutionary? Rizal was an ordinary but extraordinary man who happened to be brilliant. A smooth talker and polyglot after my own heart, he spoke 22 languages, including Arabic, Catalan, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Tagalog, and other native dialects.
Rizal was born José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda in Laguna, Philippines in 1861. His precious life of 35 years ended in execution in 1896 at the tail end of the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines, as Rizal precipitated the Philippine independence movement (though the Philippines was not officially independent until 1946, after the Treaty of Paris of 1898 ending Spanish rule, and after occupation by the USA and Japan during WWII). Rizal’s charge by the executioners was rebellion, primarily through his famous writings of Filipino literature, Noli Me Tángere (published in Berlin in 1887) and its sequel El filibusterismo (published in Ghent in 1891), which were critical of the power of Spanish friars and the Church. Rizal often wrote in Spanish, the lingua franca of the Spanish East Indies. These writings awakened Filipino nationalism.
The second picture in the sequence is of a bust that I saw in Madrid at the Philippines embassy. Rizal got around, having traveled extensively through Europe, America and Asia. He studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid and attended medical lectures at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg. He was an ophthalmologist by profession, but so much more. A polymath, he exceled in the sciences and arts. If you ever want a good biography… Check out the life of this guy.
According to joserizal.ph, “He was an architect, artist, businessman, cartoonist, educator, economist, ethnologist, scientific farmer, historian, inventor, journalist, linguist, musician, mythologist, nationalist, naturalist, novelist, ophthalmic surgeon, poet, propagandist, psychologist, scientist, sculptor, sociologist, and theologian. He was an expert swordsman and a good shot.”
Following his return to the Philippines from Europe and Hong Kong, Rizal was exiled from 1892-1896 in Dapitan. During this time, the militant Filipino secret society Katipunan, led by Andrés Bonifacio, grew to become a nationwide rebellion. While Rizal condemned the uprising and was more in line with civil disobedience to save Filipino lives, the Katipunan honored Rizal as president of the organization and declared his name in the fight for war, unity and liberty.
Rizal was excused from the governor of Dapitan to serve as a doctor in Cuba as revolution there had broken out. He was heading to Cuba via Spain before imprisonment in Barcelona. After being deported, Rizal was imprisoned in Fort Santiago in Manila (I visited Fort Santiago last year).
Rizal was sent to what was then Bagumbayan to be executed for his charges of rebellion, sedition, conspiracy and association with insurrection. He is known as the first Filipino revolutionary who was sent to death solely for his dissent as a writer whose stirrings swept a nation. His final words were those of Jesus Christ, “consummatum est — it is finished.”
There is really much more to be said about the life of this Filipino genius and his efforts in the reform movement. But those are my notes! I look to a man like JPR and am reminded that intelligence is not to be dismissed and can be worthwhile to cultivate.