Noli me tangere

May 16 2009

Wikipedia lists three Philippine historical novels: Noli me tangere and El filibusterismo by José Rizal, and The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin. Rizal wrote in Spanish, Joaquin in English.

Rizal (1861-December 30 1896) was the hero of the Philippine rebellion of 1896-8 against Spain. Andrés Bonifacio (1863-May 10 1897) was another. Both were executed. Emilio Aguinaldo, born in 1869, died in 1964 (sic), was a third, and the country’s first president.

In 1898 the US won the Philippines, along with Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam, in the Spanish-American War. The Philippines resisted America in a further war lasting from 1899 to 1901.

The US granted the Philippines semi-independence in 1935 as the Commonwealth of the Philippines (President Manuel Quezon). The Japanese were in occupation from 1941 to ’44, when General MacArthur landed with the Sixth United States Army. The independent Republic of the Philippines was established in 1946 (President Manuel Roxas).

In 2007 a new translation of Noli me tangere by Harold Augenbraum (480 pages) was released by Penguin Classics. Neither it nor its successor is, strictly speaking, historical. They were set in Rizal’s own time. They angered both the Spaniards and hispanicised Filipinos. They are critical of Spanish friars (Franciscan, Dominican, Augustinian) and of atrocities committed in the name of the Church. Noli me tangere was published in Berlin in 1887, El filibusterismo in Ghent in 1891, with borrowed funds.

The former begins, in the new translation:

“Toward the end of October, Don Santiago de los Santos, who was generally known as Captain Tiago, gave a dinner party that, despite its having been announced only that afternoon, which was not his usual practice, was the topic of every conversation in Binondo and neighboring areas, and even as far as Intramuros [the walled inner city of Manila]. In those days Captain Tiago was considered the most liberal of men, and it was known that the doors of his house, like those of his country, were closed to no one but tradesmen or perhaps a new or daring idea.

“The news surged like a jolt of electricity among the parasites, spongers, and freeloaders that God, in his infinite goodness, has so lovingly multiplied in Manila. Some went looking for bootblack, and others in search of collar-buttons and cravats, but everyone, of course, spent time deciding on the best way to greet the master of the house with just the right amount of familiarity to make him believe in a past friendship, or, if necessary, how exactly to make excuses for not having come by sooner.

“The dinner was to be given on a house in Analoague Street, and since we no longer remember its number, we will describe it in such a way that it can still be recognised, if earthquakes haven’t destroyed it. We don’t believe the owner would have torn it down, because usually this sort of work is reserved for God or nature, which has, it appears, many projects of this type under contract with our government. It is quite a large structure, of a style similar to many others in the country, located near a section that overlooks a branch of the Pasig often called the Binondo Creek, which plays, like many rivers in Manila, the multiple roles of bathhouse, sewer, laundry, fishing hole, thoroughfare, and even drinking water, if that served the interests of the Chinese water-seller. It is important to note that this vital district artery, where traffic is so bustling and bewildering, for a length of over a kilometer, is served by just one wooden bridge, which for half the year is under repair on one end and for the remainder is closed to traffic on the other, so that in the hot months horses take advantage of this permanent status quo to jump from it into the water, to the great surprise of the daydreaming individual as he dozes … or philosophizes on the century’s progress. […]”

The French term filibuster was used in the late eighteenth century to describe pirates who pillaged Spanish colonies in the West Indies. Then, in the middle of the next century, it was used to describe US citizens who fomented insurrections in Latin America. Another, extant, use was in relation to the obstruction of legislation in the US Congress. Did that appear before or after the Latin American use? Presumably Rizal’s filibusterismo refers to the latter use, transposed to the Philippines.

Joaquin (1917-2004) was a Philippine historian and journalist. His novels, with their “baroque Spanish-flavored English [and] his reinventions of English based on Filipinisms” are mainly about Manila. The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961) is set in the American period, leading up to independence, with part taking place in Hong Kong.

Manila – Acapulco



3 Responses to “Noli me tangere”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Noli me tangere, meaning “don’t touch me”, is the Latin version of words spoken, according to John 20:17, by Jesus to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection.


  2. davidderrick Says:

    “I have read carefully the treaty of Paris [1898], and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” – Mark Twain, New York Herald, October 15 1900.

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