Bunye: The quintessential hero

AMONG all of our heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal, whose martyrdom we are honoring today, December 30, 2019, is without any doubt the most written about. But one can never get tired leafing through Rizaliana materials. There is always something new, something interesting to learn about him. Here are some interesting bits and pieces.

A very prolific writer, Rizal wrote two immortal novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. He also authored 18 poems, the most famous of which is Mi Ultimo Adios. Rizal hid the manuscript of Mi Ultimo Adios inside an alcohol lamp which was later turned over to his families. Another possible obra maestra, but irretrievably lost, was hidden inside the sole of his shoes. Alas, the shoes were destroyed by the elements when, after his execution at the Luneta, Rizal was buried in an unmarked tomb in Paco.

Also among his works were hundreds of essays and letters. What is probably not so well known is the fact that he also wrote his version of the Filipino folklore entitled “The Monkey and The Turtle.” This he did, to emphasize the need to develop the reading habit among the young. Rizal’s version saw print in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London in July 1889, just two years after the publication of his first novel “Noli Me Tangere”.

Rizal was cool-headed. But there was a time when he almost fought a duel with two other famous kababayans – Antonio Luna and Wenceslao Retana. Rizal and Luna almost dueled because of a girl – Nelly Boustead, a beautiful mestiza of English and Spanish descent. Luna felt that he had a first claim on Nelly Boustead but Boustead appeared to be becoming infatuated with Rizal. In fact, Boustead later became one of the many girlfriends of Rizal.

In one boys’ night out, Luna reportedly got drunk and said nasty things about Boustead. There are different versions of who challenged whom. Luna was known for his fiery temper and could have challenged Rizal. But Rizal was not one who would back out in defending his or a friend’s honor. Cooler heads were reported to have intervened. When Luna regained sobriety, he realized his mistake and apologized to Rizal. Luna’s brother, Juan, also apologized to Rizal. Philippine history could have been drastically altered had the duel taken place. The two were good both with the sword and the pistol. Had the duel taken place, it would certainly have been fatal to either or both.

In the case of Wenceslao Retana, Rizal was offended by an article written by the historian. In the offensive article, Retana hinted that the Rizals were ejected by the Spanish authorities from their ancestral property in Biñan for non-payment of taxes. Retana subsequently issued a public apology and the duel was called off. Retana and Rizal later became very good friends.

During his years in Germany, Rizal was known to frequent beerhouses. The German variety, of course, was not the seedy kind. It was more like a clubhouse of German students. Rizal frequented them not just for the beer but also to practise his German.

Because of Rizal’s close association with the painter Juan Luna, Rizal became part of two of Luna’s immortal paintings. In “Blood Compact”, a mural which is prominently displayed at the entrance of the Malacanan ceremonial hall, the forearm of one of the parties to the blood compact was supposed to have been modeled after Rizal’s. In “Parisian Life”, (now displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts) Rizal was one of three gentlemen featured at the background. The other two were the painter himself, Luna, and Ariston Bautista Lin.

One of the earliest celebrations of Rizal Day

One of the earliest official public recognitions accorded to Rizal was the renaming of the District of Morong to the Province of Rizal on June 11, 1901.

Subsequently, towns, streets, plazas, schools and other institutions have been named after Rizal. Statues and busts of Rizal have been built not just in the Philippines but also in prominent foreign cities. Exact replicas of the of the Rizal monument in Luneta may be found in Madrid and in Fujian, China.

Celebrations of Rizal Day have been observed in various communities in the years after Rizal’s execution. Here is one celebration as described by Ignacio O. Bunye, my paternal grandfather. (Translated from the original Tagalog) “Residents of Alabang (Muntinlupa) were active participants in the organization called “Ikalalaya” – one of the earliest organizations which actively advocated and supported a movement to honor Rizal. In 1910, “Ikalalaya” organized a simple program commemorating the national hero.

A likeness of Rizal, fashioned out of clay was paraded in the streets of Alabang on top of a baby carriage. Behind the carriage was the 9-man band of Victorino Porciunkula. The parade ended at the house of G. Moral where a "salu-salo" was hosted by Germogenes Arciaga and Salustiano Bragat.

“The following year, on the birth anniversary of Dr. Rizal, a much bigger parade which started from Sukat and ended at Tunazancillo (the whole length of Muntinlupa) was held. The occasion was graced by Lope K. Santos, Governor of Rizal, Honorio Musni and Board Member Silvestre Apacible.”

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