Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rizal as Teacher, Farmer, Surgeon and Engineer in Dapitan

Rizal's arrival in Sta. Cruz Beach

by Alan S. Cajes

Jose P. Rizal said that he spent “four years, thirteen days, and a few hours” in Dapitan, now a third-class city in Zamboanga del Norte. The Spanish regime arrested and exiled the 31-year old surgeon to Dapitan from 17 July 1892 to 31 July 1896 for fear that he was sowing the seed of a movement towards independence.

In a letter to his friend, Fernando Blumentritt, on 5 April 1896, Rizal explained that Dapitan was “founded by Boholanos before or after the coming of the first Spaniards” and that “Dapitan means a place of rendezvous or meeting-place.” As a disclosure, let me state that I am a Boholano thus I was excited for the opportunity to visit the place during the holidays and gather data on Rizal’s ecological way of life in a home away from home. I have written elsewhere about the evacuation of some Boholanos to Dapitan. However, there is another narrative claiming that the evacuees were actually conquerors of the Boholanos and that they were forced out of their Mansasa-Dauis settlement as consequence of the raid by Ternate sometime in 1563. This article, however, has a simpler aim -- to piece together some of Rizal’s ideas and feelings during his banishment as embodied in his separate writings.

Rizal’s Place in Dapitan


View of "handome bay" from Rizal's place
Rizal described Dapitan as “situated by a handsome bay that faces West, on some sort of island formed expressly for her, as if in order to isolate her from the vulgar world, by a lovely river which to this end has graciously consented to split itself into two, thus to embrace her with two silvery arms and carry her towards the sea as an offering, the most beautiful that it has found in its tortuous and eventful pilgrimage over mountains and valleys, through forests and plain.”[i]

Rizal initially stayed in the house of the governor and military commandant near the town’s plaza. Later, he was allowed to move to the coastal barangay of Talisay where he bought a 16-hectare piece of land using his lottery earnings. He said in another letter to his friend that “Talisay is the proper name of the piece of land I have bought.” Although the place is named after the talisay tree, Rizal said in a letter to Manuel Hidalgo on 8 February 1893 that there was no talisay tree in the area. So, he thought of calling his farm Balunò (Baunò) after the trees that were found there.

As soon as he settled down, Rizal cleared the land, planted rice and corn, and built a house, a clinic and a school.[ii] In another letter to Hildalgo on 7 March 1893, he said:

Replica of Rizal's house
“My house will be finished either tomorrow or after tomorrow. It is very pretty for its price (40 pesos) and it turned out better than what I wanted. My lot cannot be better and I am improving it every day... I have plenty of land to accommodate at least five families with houses and orchards."[iii]
 In another letter to Blumentritt on 19 December 1893, Rizal described how he lived:


 “I have three houses; one square, another hexagonal, and a third octagonal, all of bamboo, wood and nipa. In the square house we live, my mother, sister Trinidad, a nephew and I; in the octagonal live my boys or some good youngsters whom I teach arithmetic, Spanish and English; and in the hexagonal live my chickens. From my house I hear the murmur of a crystal clear brook which comes from the high rocks; I see the seashore, the sea where I have small boats, two canoes or barotos, as they say here. I have many fruit trees, mangoes, lanzones, guayabanos, baluno, nangka, etc. I have rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. I rise early—at five—visit my plants, feed the chickens, awaken my people and put them in movement. At half-past seven we breakfast with tea, pastries, cheese, sweetmeats, etc. Later I treat my poor patients who come to my land; I dress, I go to the town in my baroto, treat the people there, and return at 12 when my luncheon awaits me. Then I teach the boys until 4 P.M. and devote the after-noon to agriculture. I spend the night reading and studying.[iv]

In his poem, My Retreat[v], Rizal shared a glimpse of his new home:
Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I planted my humble hut beneath a pleasant orchard,
seeking in the still serenity of the woods
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.

Its roof is fragile nipa; its floor is brittle bamboo;
its beams and posts are rough as rough-hewn wood can be;
of no worth, it is certain, is my rustic cabin;
but on the lap of the eternal mount it slumbers
and night and day is lulled by the crooning of the sea.

The overflowing brook, that from the shadowy jungle
descends between huge bowlders, washes it with its spray,
donating a current of water through makeshift bamboo pipes
that in the silent night is melody and music
and crystalline nectar in the noon heat of the day.

If the sky is serene, meekly flows the spring,
strumming on its invisible zither unceasingly;
but come the time of the rains, and an impetuous torrent
spills over rocks and chasms—hoarse, foaming and aboil—
to hurl itself with a frenzied roaring toward the sea.

The barking of the dog, the twittering of the birds,
the hoarse voice of the kalaw are all that I hear;
there is no boastful man, no nuisance of a neighbor
to impose himself on my mind or to disturb my passage;
only the forests and the sea do I have near.

Rizal as Teacher


Rizal dreamed of founding a school with Blumetritt as school director so that he could focus in studying science and in writing history.[vi] In Talisay, he built a school and taught local children (16 high school level boys in 1896), as well as children entrusted to him by his kins (elementary level), how to catch insects, gather shells, dive for rare fish, speak and write languages like Spanish, English, French and German, as well as “practical lessons in botany and zoology,” physical fitness and martial arts. As a teacher, Rizal developed his own practical teaching method, learning aids and learning management.”[vii]  His poem, Hymn to Talisay, depicts the style and content of his instruction:

At Dapitan, the sandy shore
And rocks aloft on mountain crest
Form thy throne, O refuge blest,
That we from childhood days have known.
In your vales that flowers adorn
And your fruitful leafy shade,
Our thinking power are being made,
And soul with body being grown.

We are youth not long on earth
But our souls are free from sorrow;
Calm, strong men we’ll be tomorrow,
Who can guard our families’ right.
Lads are we whom naught can frighten,
Whether thunder, waves, or rain
Swift of arm, serene of mien
In peril, shall we wage our fights.

With our games we churn the sand,
Through the caves and crags we roam,
On the rocks  we make our home,
Everywhere our arms can reach.
Neither dark nor night obscure
Cause us fear, nor fierce torment
That even Satan can invent
Life or death? We must face each!

“Talisayans”, people call us!
Mighty souls in bodies small
O’er Dapitan’s district all
No Talisay like this towers.
None can march our reservoir.
Our diving pool the sea profound!
No rowing boat the world around
For the moment can pass ours.

We study science exact;
The history of our motherland;
Three languages or four command;
Bring faith and reason in accord.
Our hands can manage at one time
The sail and working spade and pen,
The mason’s maul – for virile men
Companions – and the gun and sword.

Live, live, O leafy green Talisay!
Our voices sing thy praise in chorus
Clear star, precious treasure for us.
Our childhood’s wisdom and its balm.
In fights that wait for every man,
In sorrow and adversity,
Thy memory a charm will be,
And in the tomb, thy name, thy calm.

CHORUS
Hail, O Talisay!
Firm and untiring
Ever aspiring,
Stately thy gait.
Things, everywhere
In sea, land and air
Shalt thou dominate

In another letter to his friend on 15 January 1895, he said: 

“My life now is quiet, peaceful, retired and without glory, but I think it is useful too. I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English, mathematics, and geometry; moreover I teach them to behave like men. I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think I am right. We have begun and success crowned our trials.”

Josephine Bracken, his partner, supervised the school when Rizal was away. In a letter to his mother on 12 March 1896, Rizal intimated:  “She bathes them, and washes and mends their clothes, so that, poor girl, she is never at rest, but she does it willingly for she has a great love for the boys, and they love her more than they love me!”

Rizal as Farmer

Rizal’s farm had fruit trees (mangoes, lanzone, guayabanos, baluno, nanka, etc.), rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, rice, corn, ferns and flowers like roses and sampaguita. In another letter to his mother, Rizal said:

“My land has 6,000 abaca plants. If you want to come here, I shall build a house where we can all live together until we die…My land is beautiful; it is in the interior, far from the sea, about a half-hour’s walk; it is in a very picturesque place. The land is very fertile. In addition to the abaca plantation there is land for planting two cavanes [150 liters] of corn. Little by little we can buy the remaining lands near mine. There are plenty of dalag [mudfish], pakò [ferns] and little round stones.”[viii]

When Rizal found out that that the local fisherfolk used an inefficient fishing technique, he looked for ways to address this problem. This can be gleaned from his letter to Hildalgo on 19 January 1893:

“Here I have formed a partnership with a Spaniard to supply the town with fish of which it lacks. In Dapitan alone there are six thousand inhabitants and in the interior some two or three thousands more and for so many people there is nothing but small sakag that catches little fish of the size of the talaisá. Aquilino told me that with one pukútan [net] alone like yours, the whole town could be supplied with fish, because here there is a good beach and fish abound a little distance away from the shore. If you wish to sell me your pukútan at an agreed price, and if it is still in good condition, I would buy it. If not, I would appreciate it if you would buy me a pukútan in the same condition, good, strong, etc. Here nobody knows how to weave the mesh of a net.”[ix]

Rizal also formed the Sociedad de Agricultores Dapitanos in 1895 to “improve/promote agricultural products, obtain better profits for them, provide capital for the purchase of these goods, and help to the extent possible the harvesters and labourers by means of a store (co-op) where articles of basic necessity are sold at moderate prices.”[x]


Rizal as Surgeon


Rizal’s fame as an exiled surgeon began seven days after his arrival in Dapitan and while he was staying in the house of the governor and military commandant. This was made possible by an incident that occurred during a celebration of the town’s fiesta on 24 July 1892. A local resident was hurt by a firecracker that exploded in his hands. He squirmed in pain, but the local folks could not help him. An unknown Rizal came into the picture and treated his first patient. In a few months, the townfolk would call him “Dr. Rizal” and “greeted him with more reverence than they did the comandante and the parish priest.”[xi]

On 15 January 1895, Rizal wrote to Blumentritt that he was “overwhelmed with patients” who were “so numerous that I have to turn away some for not being able to attend to them.” He operated on “three or five patients a week. Many are poor but some pay.” In the same letter, he also told his friend about a good news: “I got operated my dear Mother of cataract. Thank God she is perfectly well now and can write and read with easy.”

As a surgeon, Rizal offered free services to the local people, but charged the visitors based on their capacity to pay. From his earnings, he helped the town by building a hospital, donating funds for public lighting, etc. But he was conscious of the difficulty he was facing as a physician. In his letter to Jose Basa on 18 December 1894, he said:

“This town of Dapitan is very good. I’m in good terms with everyone. I live peacefully, but the town is very poor, very poor. Life in it is not unpleasant to me because it is isolated and lonesome; but I am sorry to see so many twisted things and not be able to remedy them, for there is no money or means to buy instruments and medicine. Here a man fell from a coconut tree and perhaps I could have saved him if I had instruments and chloroform on hand. I perform operations with the little that I have. I treat lameless and hernias with reeds and canes. I do the funniest cures with the means available. I cannot order anything, for the patients cannot pay; at times I even give medicine gratis.”[xii]

Rizal as an Engineer

Dike of stone, brick and mortar

On 15 January 1895, Rizal wrote to Blumentritt that he was “going to build a water-tank on my land. I have 14 boys whom I teach languages, mathematics, and how to work, and as we have no work I have decided to construct a dike of stone, brick, and mortar so that they may learn.” On 20 November of the same year, he wrote that he “made a wooden machine for making bricks” and that he could “make at least 6,000 a day”. He eventually built an oven for the bricks.

Relief Map of Midanao in front of St. James Church
Outside his land, Rizal helped the town by developing its first park, with street lamps and a garden/flower relief map of the whole island of Mindanao. With support of the local authorities and the residents, he constructed Dapitan’s aqueduct with a length of several kilometers using clay tiles and lime. He also initiated plaza beautification and clean-up to improve health and sanitation.

Rizal as a Learner


Drawing of Rhacophorus rizali
On top of his professional occupation and other activities, Rizal continued his search for knowledge. He studied the Tagalog grammar, Malay and Bisaya, wrote an article on witchcraft in the Philippines, collected species that he sent to scientists abroad like A.B. Meyer (three species are named after Rizal)[xiii], read books and magazines like Scientific American and Saturday Review. He wrote poems and letters that reflected his brilliant mind and carried his pains and aspirations. The last two stanzas of Mi Retiro capture his sentiments:

You offer me, O illusions, the cup of consolation;
you come to reawaken the years of youthful mirth;
hurricane, I thank you; winds of heaven, I thank you
that in good hour suspended by uncertain flight
to bring me down to the bosom of my native earth.

Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I found in my land a refuge under a pleasant orchard,
and in its shadowy forests, serene tranquility,
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.[xiv]



[i] Translated from the original Spanish by George Aseniero; cited in Walpole, P. (2011, May 11). Dapitan Most Beautiful. [Msg. 39]. Posted to ESSC –Environmental Science for Social Change, archived at http://essc.org.ph/content/view/472/104/
[ii] Rizal, J. (1964). Letters between Rizal and family members. Manila: National Heroes Commission, 356
[iii] Rizal, 1964, 358-359
[iv] Rizal, J. (1961a). The Rizal-Blumentritt correspondence, Volume II. Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 475
[v] Translated from the Spanish by Nick Joaquin; see http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php/Mi_Retiro
[vi] Rizal, 1961a, Vol. II, 344
[vii] Bantug, A. L. (2008). Lolo Jose: An intimate and illustrated portrait of Rizal (2nd ed.). Quezon City: Vidal Publishing House, 134
[viii] Rizal, 1964, 416-417
[ix] Rizal, 1964, 354
[x] Rizal, J. (1961b). Escritos de Jose Rizal, Tomo VII: Escritos Politicos e Historicos. Manila: Comision Nacional del Centenario de Jose Rizal, 328-330
[xi] Rizal, J. (1961b); Quibuyen, F. (December 2011). Rizal’s Legacy for the 21st Century: Progressive Education, Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development in Dapitan. Social Science Diliman, 7:2, 1-29 stated that the “firecracker incident is recounted in the unpublished memoirs written in Spanish of Jose Aseniero, Rizal’s star pupil in Dapitan, who eventually became governor of the province of Zamboanga (1925-1928) under American rule” based on personal communication.
[xii] Rizal, J. (1963). Rizal’s correspondence with fellow reformists, 1882-1896. Manila: National Heroes Commission, 717
[xiii] These species are Draco rizali (a small lizard, known as a flying dragon), Apogania rizali (rare kind of beetle with five horns) and Rhacophorus rizali (frog). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Rizal#Species_named_after_Rizal