CURIOUS RIZAL WAS FASCINATED BY THE PARANORMAL
by Bryan Anthony C. Paraiso
Jose Rizal’s intellectual prowess continues to be an interesting topic of discussion for Filipinos, both young and old alike. For a man gifted with indubitable polymath abilities, Rizal has been transformed into a hero of mythic proportions whom parents hold up to their children to emulate in their studies to gain academic honors.
Filipino high school and college students, though awed by Rizal’s greatness, are understandably daunted by their parents’ wishes and often become indifferent to the hero’s life and works.
Deploring this situation, popular historian and National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chair, Dr. Ambeth R. Ocampo, urges Filipinos to “see (Rizal) as a human person because it is only in Rizal’s humanity that you can see the secret of his greatness. If you see what he is like, you’ll see a human person inside the hero and you’ll see the Filipino capacity for greatness.”
With the commemoration of Rizal’s death at the end of the month, and the landmark celebration of his 150th birth anniversary on June 19, 2011, it is an opportune time to bare unconventional stories about our national hero’s genius and myriad interests.
Aside from Rizal’s proclivity for the arts and sciences, it has been discovered that he was also interested in esoteric beliefs, applying empirical methods of inquiry and cross-cultural referencing to understand peculiar phenomena.
In this age, when children and adults alike enjoy fantasy stories in books and movies, to see Rizal as a curious scholar fascinated by indigenous folklore and the supernatural reveals a hero far more human than our glorified image of him.
Rizal’s interest in the arcane might have been fueled by several sueños tristes (sad dreams) that he recorded in his diaries and letters. In one instance, Rizal wrote in his diary entry for May 10, 1882, that he dreamed his brother Paciano had died suddenly. He intimated: “It is true that I had a dream once that was fulfilled. Before the examination for the first year in Medicine, I dreamed that I was asked certain questions but I didn’t mind them. When the examinations came, I was asked the questions in my dream. May God will that it might not happen to us!”
Prophetic dreams troubled Rizal and prompted him to pry into the mysterious sacred texts of Zoroastrianism. In 1884, he transcribed in Spanish three chapters of the Zend-Avesta Vendidad, which are prayers for ritual purification against evil influences. It is possible that Rizal’s latent clairvoyance and early forays into the occult led him to rationalize paranormal phenomena.
During his exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, in November 1895, Rizal wrote a psychoanalytical monograph on bewitchment by the native sorceress (manggagaway) entitled La Curación de los Hechizados.
In his essay, Rizal initially criticizes the mediocre medical practice in the country for the proliferation of superstition and witchcraft: “En Filipinas pasan por hechizados los que padecen de una enfermedad singular o desconocida para los curanderos y cuyo origen no se puede atribuir al aire, al calor, al frío, al vapor de tierra ni siqueira a la indigestión, únicas causas patogénicas que se admiten en el pais (In the Philippines, the bewitched are those who suffer from a disease unique or unknown to quacks and whose cause cannot be attributed to the air, heat, cold, vapor from the earth, nor even to indigestion, the only pathogenic causes accepted in the country).”
However, Rizal neither discounts the existence nor powers of local witches, but specifies the differences of their craft. The male sorcerer (mangkukulam) is regarded as the most potent since he ‘sheds tears of fire’ with a gaze that can ‘paralyze small animals, even flying birds.’ He indicates that sickness caused by the mangkukulam is incurable, but ascribes this to an innate ability to hypnotize or charm. Rizal actually empathizes with the mangkukulam, attributing these peculiar abilities to an unfortunate involuntary act.
In comparison, Rizal determines that the female manggagaway is particularly malevolent, practicing diabolical arts through two methods: “produciendo una lesión orgánica determinada, o un estado general con trastornos psicológicos (producing a fixed organic lesion or a general condition with psychological disturbances).”
To perform her deviltry, the manggagaway uses dolls or puppets similar to her Western counterpart to inflict injury on her intended victim through sympathetic magic. According to the late Jesuit folklorist Fr. Francisco R. Demetrio, this belief existed in Davao as late as the 1960s, where the witch called barangan destroys an enemy by pricking a cloth doll with needles.
Rizal points out that some innocent women, though known as shrews or prattlers, are suspected as manggagaway simply because of behavior considered aberrant by urbanized communities: “Un aire particular, una conducta algún tanto reservada y misteriosa, cierta manera de mirar, la poca frequencia a las prácticas religiosas, etc., bastan para granjear a la infeliz la fama de manggagaway. (A certain air, a behavior somewhat reserved and mysterious, a certain way of looking, infrequent attendance at religious services, and others, are enough to win for an unfortunate woman the reputation of manggagaway).”
To cure those afflicted by the manggagaway, Rizal acerbically derides quack healing through amulets and secret incantations, or whipping patients with a rattan cane or stingray’s tail (buntot pagi) ostensibly to drive away the witch’s possessing spirit.
Considering himself a philosopher-doctor, Rizal firmly asserts that the manggagaway’s bewitchment is an idea or evocation of suffering implanted in the victim’s mind: “Decimos que debe haber un caso de sugestión o auto-sugestión, puesto que obra como un poderoso contra hechizo el reto cara a cara, o sea, la rebelión contra esta influencia. Ahora bien: considerada bajo este aspecto la enfermedad, no hay duda que el principio en que se basa el tratamiento es, no sólo racional, no sólo está con arreglo a las teorías modernas sobre la sugestión, sino también el único que puede producir efectos (We say that it must be a case of suggestion or auto-suggestion inasmuch as the face- to-face challenge or rather the rebellion against the power of the sorcerer, is a potent counter-bewitchment. Well now, considering the illness under this aspect, there is no doubt that the principle on which its treatment is based is not only rational, not only is in accordance with modern theories on suggestion, but also the only one that can produce results).”
Rizal’s views on Philippine witchcraft, surprisingly, remains compelling today since modern scientific research have indicated the existence of the vast and untapped powers of the human mind: extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, and psychological transference, which explains the powers exhibited by ancient shamans and witches.
The paranormal remains strong in the country since remote communities cling to superstition, and crimes committed through hypnotism and suggestion by the budol-budol gang (which have also become widespread in Malaysia and Indonesia) give credence to the trance-inducing powers of our local witches.
Historians and archivists continue to revere Rizal’s multidisciplinary erudition. Scholarship on his writings and discoveries had barely scratched the surface, and all that is needed is the diligence to pore through his letters and private papers to unearth a gold mine of knowledge.
Last weekend I accompanied the Reading Association of the Philippines on a pilgrimage to Dapitan. Since most of the members were teachers, I advised them to soak in the atmosphere of the place and appreciate being able to literally tread the ground Jose Rizal walked on during his exile there from 1892-1896. To me as a teacher, the most relevant artifacts on display were the original table and blackboard (actually just a slab of Philippine hardwood) that Rizal used in his makeshift school for boys there. Everything else in Dapitan is a reconstruction of the original structures that once stood there. Thus, Dapitan, like Emilio Aguinaldo’s eccentric mansion in Kawit, is one of my favorite historic sites because it has not changed much since our heroes lived there.
Dapitan was a social laboratory where Rizal put most of his ideas into action: he improved the town plaza and landscaped the ground with a relief map of Mindanao—a map that exists to this day; he taught the Dapiteños how to fish with a net and gave them their first taste of fluffy bread; he opened a sari-sari store, a school, and learned more about mangkukulam and herbal medicine in his effort to improve public health; he built a water supply system, tried his hand at the abaca- and brick-manufacturing business; he tilled the land and tended fruit-bearing trees on an estate bought from his winnings from the lottery.
This is the Rizal that people have to re-discover in order to make him relevant to modern times. Rizal did not just write the “Noli me tangere,” the “El Filibusterismo,” and the “Ultimo Adios,” he wrote much more for a nation that does not read. Each time I go to Dapitan I re-read his letters to his family for here we see a plain Rizal, a Rizal without the overcoat, a Rizal who is heroic, although at the time those letters were written, he was yet to be executed to become a “National Hero” later.
Anyone who reads the Rizal family correspondence will discover his nine sisters like Narcisa Lopez, his favorite, whose nickname Sisa is immortalized as a tragic character in the “Noli.” Sisa wrote him on Feb. 27, 1886, saying: “I suppose you don’t know yet that I’m now the mother of six children. In this letter you will see the names of the three older ones (in their own handwriting), and of the last ones, the older was Isabel, the deceased one, and the two, one girl and one boy, are called Consolación and Leoncio López, who is as fat as a melon. The children of Sra. Neneng are three: They are called Alfredo, Adela and Abelardo. Olimpia’s shortly will be three, like Sra. Neneng’s. The two who are not here are called Aristeo and Cesario; the older one called Aristeo, what a lively boy he is! His godfather is Sr. Paciano. He will be a useful boy when he gets older. At the age of two, he already knows a great deal. He is the only consolation of our parents, I tell you, because when you see this child, even if you are angry, you will be obliged to laugh, he is so funny.”
Based on the above and the fact that Rizal came from a brood of 11 children, one can only wonder what his stand would be on the RH bill had he lived today. His large family was a constant ray of sunshine when he was homesick in Europe, and we can only imagine what joy Rizal got from letters. Another sister, Lucia Herbosa, in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1882, described a son born to her in 1882, whom they named Jose: “I amuse myself with José’s ear, which is like yours. I tell you that it is really like yours, but I pray that the likeness does not stop there, but that he may have your disposition, your goodness and diligence in good works.”
In July 1886 Lucia’s husband wrote Rizal about their daughter Delfina who was suffering from “a little inflammation of (the) eye, which is the cause of her absence from school. What a pity she did not become a boy! She is bright and very studious. Her mother is always telling her not to read because her inflammation might worsen, but she is so hardheaded.” Imagine, a child insistent on reading! Twelve years later, in 1898, Delfina would assist Marcela Agoncillo in Hong Kong in the sewing and embroidering of the first Philippine flag.
Even Paciano, Rizal’s older brother, was concerned about education, asking Rizal in July 1886: “Furnish me with information of the best schools there. We have many nephews, most of them promising. It is a pity that these ones should fall into the hands of teachers who teach unwillingly and do so only for show. It is true that they inculcate in children very sane principles, such as fear and humility, the first being the beginning of wisdom and the second of apostolic and civic virtue, but it is also true that fear and humility lead to dullness.” Rizal replied that “children are not allowed to be themselves, to make noise or to play. Instead, they are made to recite the rosary and novena until the poor youngsters become very sleepy and understand nothing of what is going on. Consequently, when they reach the age of reason, they pray just as they have prayed when they were children without understanding what they are saying; they fall asleep or think of nonsense. Nothing can destroy a thing more than the abuse of it, and praying can also be abused.”
We must not forget that the Philippines’ National Hero was not born great, he evolved over time, developing as a hero amid interaction with his family.
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TAGS: Dapitan, featured columns, Jose Rizal, opinion, reading association of the Philippines