To Barrantes on the Tagalog Theater
by José Rizal
Vicente Barrantes, a Spanish academician in Madrid and a member of the Royal Spanish Academy and the Royal Academy of History was considered by many as knowledgeable in matters of the Philippines. His criticism of the Tagalog theater caused Rizal to reply in a sarcastic rebuttal in a two part open letter in La Solidaridad (15 June 1889 and 30 June 1889). In it Rizal pointed out that Barrantes really did not know the subject of which he spoke. NOTE: The picture to the left is of the Mariones Festival in Marinduke which carries on the tradition of the Passion Play, one of the chief presentations of the Tagalog Theater.
Note:Annotations are in Green
Barcelona, 15 June 1889
Most Excellent Vicente Barrantes
Most Excellent Sir,
It is said that even the most sensible man has to commit at least one folly while he lives on earth. I, most excellent Sir, who boast neither of being sensible nor of being most excellent, can permit myself to commit one (I have already plenty on my conscience) in addressing you the following lines. May God and honorable men forgive me for it!
Last year your Excellency published four articles on The Tagalog Theater in Nos. 259-262 of La Ilustracion Artistica of Barcelona. While it is just now that I have come to know of them, accept nevertheless my congratulations, because applause and praises, like money, gifts and other exactions never come too late, as your Excellency well know. And this is not the time to say a asno muerto la cebada al rabo ([you are?] a dead mule with a barley tail), because while your Excellency is alive, neither I nor anybody can apply to you the proverb, at least not so far as to consider you a dead ass.
I have read the articles from head to tail (not the dead ass) and I am exceedingly pleased to know that your Excellency is well posted in many things. I am very much obliged to note your Excellency’s good knowledge about yourself and your low opinion of others, of us, especially, the incapable and inept Filipinos, because personal satisfaction is an indication of a clean conscience and contempt of others is mastery of self, both of which I rejoice in finding in your imposing and intelligent personality.
For this reason I cannot explain to myself the discontent of the other Filipinos who were able to read your articles. Some say that the least you deal with is the Tagalog Theater which your Excellency can describe whether good or bad, because there really is, but instead of doing that, your Excellency, engages the Indios, against the Spanish Filipinos, against Philippine which your Excellency can describe whether good or bad, because there really is, but instead of doing that, your Excellency engages the Indios, against the Spanish Filipinos, against Philippine society, getting things wrong by taking many effects for causes and many causes for effects. To this I answer that they are not right (and they are my countrymen). Your Excellency does not, in fact, discuss the Filipino Theater, but rather the theater and the Tagalogs. It is not expected that a civil governor or head of the civil administration perform his duties well his own interests and then be uncivil and another thing besides. Your Excellency and I are agreed that names mean nothing (at least in the Philippines), and in this matter of titles, they are like insecticide powder or hair tonic; whether or not they kill fleas, or make the hair grow or fall, is immaterial. The important point is to make money. Therefore, that your Excellency does not describe the Tagalog theater but instead hurl abusive words to the Filipinos has nothing special. Would that your Excellency had not done anything in your life, at least while you were occupying high positions in the Philippines (including the civil governor and the director of administration).
Others observe that your Excellency must be full of bile and must have some great physical or moral incongruity to have the bitter disposition as you have. To this I reply that everyman has what he has and as no one crated himself, at least the body, he will be blamed if, for that reason, they acquire a bad temper and a bad heart. What should be censurable is for one not only to be discontented with his life but also to covet another’s. To another, whatever is “others” provided this word “others” is not taken to mean either Indios, Filipinos, or inhabitants of the Philippines. Your Excellency and I are agreed that such beings (?) are creatures neither divine nor human.
Still others, and this is the most serious, allege that your Excellency neither knows the history of the Philippines nor understands Chinese and Japanese theaters, much less the Tagalog theater which you claim to discuss and the reason why you wrote these articles was to show off certain brilliant knowledge, to praise yourself, and to degrade and vilify the unfortunate ones, assuage your conscience and appease a certain clamor of public opinion, as if to answer: a brute cannot be robbed, he who is not a man should not be treated as such. Homo homini ignoto lupus est, (“Man is a wolf to those who do not know him”) said the Latins, but the proverb could not be applicable because to your Excellency the Filipinos were not ignoti (unknown). The point is how to make them non hominess (inhuman) in order to be lupus (wolves).
As your Excellency
could expect, I, who am such your upholder, had also to defend you against
other accusations. For the present they charge that your Excellency from
the very first lines slip on historical matter and they refer to me: “At the
moment when Miguel Legaspi (The Spanish
conquistador who was the first Spanish governor general. Having defeated
the Muslim chief Rajah Sulaman in 1571 he established Manila as the capital
of the Spanish colonial administration) and
Some more delicate, without leaving the first paragraph of the first chapter, criticize the phrase of your Excellency that says: “Because the history of the archipelago propitiously begins with our conquest during the last years of the 16th century. . .” These delicate people cannot admit that your Excellency considers the year 1521, when Magellan first came to the Philippines, as the years of the century, that is to say, they will not admit that the beginning is the end. And these stupid people say: “Even granting that the history of a country begins for another from the day when he has knowledge of it, it is doubtless that the history of the Philippines ought to begin for Spain in the year 1521 when Pigafetta (the chronicler of the Magellan expedition) wrote his Primo viaggio interno al mondo (First Voyage Around the World) in which he gives a detailed account of the various usages and customs in the Philippines and when (Sebastian) del Cano (he who took command of the fleet of Magellan upon his death and completed the voyage landing in Spain in 1522) and others returned to Spain and talked about the country. But we have even more ancient data, manuscripts of the 14th century about the Philippines, and history has to go back several centuries earlier. If Mr. Barrantes does not know any more than what he knows, he should write with less presumption.”
To this I answer with the arguments of Achilles (the mythological hero of Homer’s Iliad): It is sufficient that your Excellency, a man of superior race, say it is so that I can believe it even if it is against what history says, be these statements true or not. The “monkeys” do not have anything and ought not to reply! As regards monkeys, Le Matin of May 26, 1889 published about the madness of Baron Raymond de Seilliere in order to prove his pretensions: “If compared with me,” he said, “all people are monkeys.” But this does not apply to your Excellency, in spite of the resemblances one could see!
Against future observations, your Excellency, as a man of superior race, has already written the following at the end of the famous chapter: “Such a study should not be undertaken with hopes of improving science but for the enthusiasm that bothers modern men to investigate everything though they are bound to lose in a vacuum!”
Above all “to lose one’s self in a vacuum”, as it happened to your Excellency! This is a proof of the semi-divinity of your Excellency. Only that after such a confession your Excellency, in my humble opinion, should have thrown away your pen, because inter nos (between ourselves), four chapters would be enough to annoy us, but to write seventy and more paragraphs, longer than the first and with more breaks and gaps, is truly to be cruel to the readers, especially to me, your devoted defender.
Where do I get so many arguments? If your divinity does not help me, I shall have to give up my efforts. However, I admit that if your Excellency desired to explode in anger and ill humor on readers and defenders, you did very well in writing so many paragraphs, because you have achieved your objective. I tell you sotto voces (in whispers): “That your Excellency has made all of us to burst!”
But I must go on with my task.
As regards the second paragraph of the first chapter, they say to my indignation, that your Excellency, in spite of your humus and abundant bile, has moments of extreme sincerity. And to prove their allegation, they quote what your Excellency has written at the beginning of the second paragraph: “From the collection of documents and memoirs left us by the conquerors, it can be clearly implied, according to some points of view, that they gave little value to the land and its people. The Adelantado (a title given to Magellan) himself said in his letter to Gonzalo Pereira, chief commander of the Portuguese navy in the Moluccas, in the first days of his arrival in Cebú, that their quality is not such as to attract anybody.” And they think that Your Excellency is more innocent than that Portuguese believing every shrewd word of the great Legazpi! Of so little value were they people and the land that Legazpi entered into a treaty of defensive and offensive alliance, the Spanish soldiers, fighting under the command of the Indio Tupas (ruler of Cebu), his men aided them in their expedition to Manila, and got in one year alone 109,500 pesos in gold from only two provinces. I say that this and other things should not be ignored by Your Excellency, as neither did the Portuguese commander, who because of this wretched country, had an encounter with the men of Legazpi after long diplomatic conferences. But the matters to show that the country and its inhabitants were or are not worth a straw and therefore all ways are proper, even silly pretensions.
On reading the rest of the paragraph, they infer your Excellency has not read the historians who say that the Filipinos had many industries before the Spaniards came, and that they lost them little by little since the Spaniards took over the country for causes that are very sad and provoking to say. And they cite Morga (Spanish Historian whose history Rizal added annotations), Colin (Spanish missionary, historian, and educator), Chirino (Jesuit missionary, linguist, author, and educator), and Gaspar de San Agustin (Spanish missionary and historian) himself, who, like your Excellency was against the Indio. Dr. Hans Meyer who is no pro-Indio, gives the same opinion upon seeing industrious still are the independent and non-Christian Filipinos, and he expresses the fear that they might turn as lazy as the rest when they are converted. Frankly, most excellent Sir, I have no other argument with which to answer this than the usual one: “It is sufficient that your Excellency, a man of superior race, say it, etc.” God alone is God and Barrantes, of superior race, is his prophet (a take on one of the five duties of Islam: the creed that is recited daily: Allahu Akbar, La Ila ha alla ‘alahu. Muhammad rasulu ‘llah = “God is great. There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet!”).
I am afraid I may lack answers to the sixty paragraphs or so that remain in which you scatter, to my anguish but to the joy of the stupid Filipinos, so many gross errors, showing so much ignorance, and yourself to be so vulgar in your knowledge that less could not be asked from the most ignorant member of Spanish society in Manila, whom you look down upon with so much disdain! Inter nos (between ourselves), your Excellency does not know anything about Filipino writing, nor has he studied it. Your Excellency is not aware that weapons and objects made of copper belonging to this age have been found in the ancient artifacts of the Philippines. Your Excellency does not know anything about the origin of the Filipinos and still believes that their writing is that of the Malays! Your Excellency, like the ignorant folk who do not think well of anything or read anything with concentration but are contented with the four axioms that they are told, believes that the Chinese and Japanese civilizations have exerted much influence on the Philippines before the Spaniards arrived. The Chinese came to the Islands merely as merchants and without penetrating into the interior, and without being able even to establish themselves as they had done since the arrival of the Spaniards. They had no political influence. And as regards the Japanese, although there are indications and traditions of Japanese origin which make us believe that some of them had come to the Philippines, neither did they nevertheless have political influence in the Philippines before the Spaniards came. But, what is the use of telling to your Excellency these things, since you will not be able to understand them nor believe them, as you have neither the background nor the preliminary studies made? Your Excellency says “. . .Legazpi found Portuguese and Chinese some of whom were brought while others already established in the country.” This is your own way of reading history. What Legazpi found among the Portuguese were the depredations and merciless treatment committed in the Visayan group of islands, passing themselves off as Spaniards and hurriedly returned to the Moluccas in order to make the Indios hate the Spaniards. Regarding the Chinese, the inhabitants of Mindoro on account of a typhoon seized a ship of theirs; Legaspi, who invited the Chinese to augment their trade, promising his protection, released it.
“As to ceramics and clothes,” you said, “if there are some curious objects that have been found, they reveal Chinese or Japanese origin.” This is also wrong, because the celebrated ancient jars about which Morga already narrated and on which Jagor wrote a fine chapter, though they are well appreciated by the Chinese and Japanese, they are not, nevertheless, made by them.
I therefore have to give up defending your Excellency on the remainder, because I see that the effort is far beyond my ability. Your Excellency speaks of the Chinese and Japanese theaters and I see that you have not studied them nor know them as you do the Tagalog Theater. Why has not your Excellency gone out with an interpreter to study these theatrical characteristics once and several times as some inept and lazy Filipinos have done in the theaters of China and Japan, with the “monkey” who writes this? Your Excellency could claim that the demigodliness of your race would not permit you to make such studies and you contented yourself with what some travelers had related. In this I consider you right, but I remind you that the demigods never bothered themselves talking to us about the Chinese and Japanese theaters, and in this respect your Excellency set a bad example.
But inasmuch as the inept Filipinos do not manifest nor do they have in their social life anything of the Japanese or Chinese theater (which could not reach the Philippines before the Spaniards, because the Japanese drama never touched the Archipelago), inasmuch as the Filipinos preserve nothing of what they have seen, your Excellency infer that they lack the spirit of assimilation. Frankly, this stuns me. Those who discourteously laugh at your Excellency argue: could it be that the Spanish race also lacks the spirit of assimilation simply because there is no record of any remains of Greek grammar in its literary history during the first centuries of the Carthaginian occupation? (Under the leadership of General Barca a large part of Spain was conquered by the African state of Carthage in the 3rd century. At this time Carthage had been greatly influence by Greek culture. In time a conflict between the Roman and Carthaginian empires led to the second Punic Wars.) Should it be implied from this that the Spaniards are inept? The Filipinos lack the spirit of assimilation, for did not your Excellency and others say that the Indios, because of their facility in “imitating” things, are “monkeys”? Have they not assimilated easily, as your Excellency recounts afterwards, the Spanish drama, in spite of little effort, the poor actors, and worse plays? What would you answer us if we ask you this question: Suppose, your Excellency, a Roman proconsul, after exploiting and robbing the government and the Spaniards, then a Roman Colony, on his return to Italy, so as to escape the censure and the complaints of the exploited, goes around proclaiming that the Spaniards are brutes, inept, not human beings, because they had no writing, nor did they know how to adopt Greek, Phoenician, and Carthaginian literature, nor did they have tragedies or comedies, nor could they imitate, even badly, the plays the Ennius (an early Roman poet who succeeded in adapting Greek literature into the Roman language), Plautus (a Roman writer of comic dramas), and Terence (a Roman writer of comic dramas) wrote? Would such a proconsul be thus justified to insult an entire people and vindicate his personal dilapidated condition?
To these, gentlemen, I say, most excellent Sir, nego paritatem (I deny that the conditions are similar). Your Excellency has no similarity to the Roman proconsul, and while we, like the Spaniards of that time, have not imitated foreign dramatics, we have, however, our own writing, more or less imperfect, but which we could use after all, and which neither the Celts (ancient English) had nor the Gauls (ancient French) nor the Iberians (ancient Spanish) nor even the Celtiberians (an imagined culture of an ancient British / Spanish mix; Rizal invents the word). Such a great proof is this that we are inept and stupid and incapable of civilization! Your Excellency yourself says that the first dramatic representation shown in Span, as the child of the new civilization, though it was in Provencal, dates from the 12th century or 1400 years after the golden era of Latin drama (it must have passed through Spain, for the Romans carried their customs, laws, language, and civilization everywhere, as evidenced by the ruins and monuments existing in Spain) and sixteen centuries after the era of Euripedes (a 5th century B.C. writer of tragedy) and Aristophanes (a Greek writer of satiric dramatic comedy)! And how many centuries ago since Spain brought her dramatic art to the Philippines? Does not your Excellency say, though inaccurately, that the first dramatic representation was at the time of Corcuera (Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera, Spanish Governor from 1635-1644), on July 5, 1637? And would your Excellency expect the stupid and inept Filipinos do in one century what the superior and intelligent Europeans failed to do in fourteen centuries? And, nevertheless, according to your Excellency, it was as early as 1750 when the ignorant Filipinos performed as comedy actors. What nation in Europe, after one century of Roman rule, not one century but twelve centuries, has translated the Aeneid (an epic Latin poem by Virgil) into its national poetry, some comedy of Plautus, or any other Latin or Greek play, as your Excellency claims the Tagalogs and other Filipinos have done with the Passion and various books and comedies? Your Excellency says that the Passion was translated into the principal dialects of the Philippines in the 17th century, that is, a century after, but you have not read what [Fr. Francisco] Colin [S.J.] (a Spanish missionary who wrote Labor Evangelica in 1663) says on page 54: “They are very fond of writing and reading. Hardly was there a man, much less a woman who did not know it. Those who are already Christians use it even in religious matters. Because of the sermons they hear, the stories, lives of saints, prayers, and religious poems which they, themselves, make, for there are such accomplished poets among them who nicely translate into their language any Spanish comedy, they use many booklets and devotional books in their own language written by their own hand.” These things are confirmed in the manuscript history of Fr. Pedro Chirino (a 16th – 17th century missionary and educator) who was entrusted by the Provisor and Vicar General of this archbishopric in 1609 to examine and investigate these books.” This is what [Fr. Francisco] Colin, a Spanish Jesuit who spent many years in the Philippines and wrote her history around 1640, says. We do not want to cite further references, because it would only mean nothing; there are some so precious that they are truly pearls. All this indicates that the Filipinos are a people impossible of civilization, and your Excellency is of a superior race.
Everything that your Excellency says about the corridos might be true, but the fact is that your Excellency does not know which works the Filipinos call corridos. They are different from what the Filipinos call awit, which your Excellency needs not know. Knowledge is unnecessary if the objective is the slander a people.
What you say about the Passion is interesting, but your Excellency could have told us the original from which the translation so much in vogue among the Filipinos was taken, and then prove it. Because the fact that similar works exist in other languages does not mean that the latter are translations of the earlier ones. If not, three Gospels would be translations of that of St. Matthew (In Rizal’s day the Roman Catholic position was that Matthew was the earliest gospel and the bases for Mark and Luke. Most modern biblical scholars, both Protestant and Catholic hold that Mark was likely the earliest.) and so with other works.
Your Excellency says: “Although there is only one step from recital and vocal music to stage representation, it is presumed that undoubtedly the Passion did not lead to it among the Indios. . . .” and then you become wordy on this principle by means of degrading regard to the whole morality of the country. Indeed, your Excellency could have saved the following paragraphs had you studied the matter more seriously. Yes, most excellent Sir, the Passion has dramatic scenes; all the Filipinos will tell you so. When I was young, I used to see the temptation on the mountain and the burial scenes depicted on the stage and were, in fact, shown in private houses. But what happens to your Excellency in regard to this is similar to the Filipino comedies – you have not seen them, therefore there are none, and so the stupid Filipinos should be insulted.
We will take up more carefully the Filipino art and Philippine literature – when brighter days shine. Then we shall say which stage show was purely Filipino, which was foreign and brought by the Spaniards, which was the result of this mixture, which were the most prominent, etc. Meanwhile, may your Excellency excuse me if I do not now present the glories and little expressions of the spirit of my country. In truth, I do not want to see the name of your Excellency cited in the history of the arts of my native land; however poor and crude they might be, however childish, ridiculous, and funny to your Excellency, they however preserve for me much poetry and a certain radiance of purity not understood by your Excellency. The first songs, the first comedy, the first drama that I saw in my childhood and which lasted three nights, leaving an indelible impression in my mind, despite their crudeness and absurdity, were in Tagalog. They are, most excellent Sir, like an intimate family festival, of a poor family; and it could be desecrated and rid of all charms in the name of your Excellency, which is of a superior race.
And we shall try to end at once.
I shall bypass many observations regarding your articles. I shall ignore what your Excellency states in chapter III, paragraph 3 about the “Malays of Colombo and Ceylon” that Your excellency states in chapter III, paragraph 3. I believe that your Excellency does not refer to the Indians of a Caucasian race, who live in Ceylon, but to some other Malays, who happened to be there, unless your Excellency intends to change ethnography. Well, I know that being of superior race, you can do all things. Thus, you could have said also the “Malays of Madrid and Spain, or of London and England, of Paris and France,” because of the opinion of your Excellency the capital of a country does not belong to her. But as your Excellency belongs to a superior race, you can make the Sinhalese Malays, and Colombo, capital of Ceylon whatever you wish or think. They are all vague and of dark color. Your Excellency will say that all cats are gray at night; and so all those of dark color are Malays. The chulos [rogues] of Madrid call them Chinese, however. Take note, Your Excellency, your fellow countrymen, the chulos.
And skipping all, except the last one, for which not even I, your ardent defender, can forgive you, the conclusion, in which you say: “because the carillo [The Carrilo was a puppet show, which lost its appeal with the advent of motion pictures.] of Magdalena Street had dared to stage Don Juan Tenorio, a play that was in fashion among perverted people because a native actor of the Filipino theater was wont to behead him frequently. . .” I say that I cannot forgive Your Excellency for it and I repeat it, in exchange for your fury and your antipathies, in exchange for the loss of all my good services and my work . . . (damaged) I cannot forgive you, no Most Excellent sir, I cannot permit that your Excellency convert into “a native actor of the Filipino theater” that actor of superior race, of the same race as your Excellency. How? Your Excellency lowered thus a demigod to the most unworthy category of a native, only because he did not play well his role? Look out, Your Excellency, if that system is generalized, the Filipinos are going to be more numerous than the Chinese, I say, they are going to dominate the world, and perhaps, perhaps I may have for compatriots many Most Excellent sirs and other titles besides, which would be a calamity. Your Excellency, the whole Manila public, all that society that Your Excellency says is apathetic and inert, the stupid Tagalogs of Luzon and I, another Tagalog and another stupid man, we know very well who is that actor. . . Be careful, Most Excellent Sir, someone may sue for damages!
Abandon, Your Excellency, your intention of studying the bibliography of the Filipino theater, because I know what schoolteachers, what clerks have furnished you with the translation of some works. Be content, Your Excellency, with generalities for thus you will commit yourself less; do not go down to the bottom, lest what happened to Schiller’s diver befall you. He was saved the first time but the second time he was drowned. Your Excellency found a defender this time; who knows if you will have the same luck later.
And now by way of farewell, I have to tell you why you have inspired me with so many sympathies and I have appointed myself your defender. Seeing that after you have twice occupied high posts in my country and knowing many things that you have done and planned to do, I was pleased that my motherland, my race, the whole Filipino society, and everything that I love and revere, only deserves the contempt of your Excellency and awakens you with hatred and repugnance. This time I am speaking in all sincerity, most excellent Sir. For my country the greatest insult from your Excellency is an honor, because however wretched, ignorant, and unfortunate she is; yet it seems that there remains one good quality. May God reward your Excellency for the insults and aversions with which you honor the Philippines in general! Thunder, your Excellency, slanders, defames, and places us on the last step of the zoological ladder, that matters not to us. Excite the ire of everybody against the Filipinos who object to such calumny, against the abasement of those who have shed their blood for Spain, for her flag, in order that she can extend her dominions in the Orient, to protect her colonial empire against the Chinese, Japanese, Mohammedans, Dutch, Portuguese, and English, to assist even the countries that are friends of Spain; charge us of being ungrateful and filibuster simply because we have a sense of dignity and because we want to protest against outreached injustice. It matters not! We shall go on with our course, we shall remain faithful to Spain, as long as those who direct her destiny have a spark of love for our country, as long as she has ministers who plan liberal reforms, as long as the clamor of invectives does not obliterate from our memory the names of Legazpi (Conquistador and Spain’s 1st Governor General), Salcedo (16th Century Spanish Conquistador who conquered Luzon), Carriedo (Spain called General Carriedo, “Manila’s greatest benefactor". A trust of Carriedo after his death contributed to the first of Manila’s water systems), and above all, the names of the Catholic kings who protected from afar the unfortunate Malays of the Philippines!