The Creole in the Rizal Hero

The Creole in the Rizal Hero

(A reading of Nick Joaquin’s “Why was the Rizal Hero a Creole?”)

 The work by Nick Joaquin, Why was the Rizal Hero a Creole? discusses the main protagonist/antagonist of the Rizal novels: Juan Crisostomo Ibarra a.k.a Simoun the merchant. Nick Joaquin’s premise for his discussion centers on Ibarra’s lineage and his metamorphosis to Simoun.

 Joaquin first makes mention of Maria Clara and questions Rizal’s choice of heroine/damsel in distress. Maria Clara, is the bastard child of Padre Damaso but is raised as Capitan Tiago’s own daughter (the poor man was made to treat the girl as his own daughter, knowing that she was the product of his wife being raped by the lecherous prayle). She becomes the love interest of Ibarra yet there is no consummation of love between the two: Maria Clara is also pursued by another man, Linares; Tiago is reluctant to give over his daughter to Ibarra because Damaso is clearly against the match; Ibarra becomes entrenched in the whole revolution drama and is hunted; when everyone is made to think that Ibarra is dead, she enters the convent; when Ibarra re-emerges as Simoun and tries to spring her out of the convent it is too late, she has already committed suicide due to the strain of Padre Salvi’s lecherous advances. The way Maria Clara was conceptualized by Rizal, made his novels irreverent in his choice of a weak-willed, helpless bastard who commits suicide because she cannot handle the pressure imposed on her. The 1930s tried to gloss over Maria Clara by saying that she was not really a heroine but an object of satire: unfortunately this is negated by the fact that Maria Clara, in no way, resembles a satire (she’s too tragic a figure to be satirized). The thing here is, that while Rizal might have been enamored by her, most of his readers are not. What the iconoclast of today simply do is to reject Maria Clara and all the obscure notions of her as being the symbol of Mother Country.

Maria Clara though, is just an introduction to Joaquin’s discussion – a segue of sorts. As was stated at the beginning of this paper, Joaquin’s discussion centered on Ibarra/Simoun and the idea of the Creole as the main character of the novels. For Joaquin, Juan Crisostomo Ibarra, “offends the racial pride” for he is not an Indio Filipino but rather a Spanish Filipino. Ibarra belonged to the Creole class which used the name Filipino in those days.

The Philippine Creole, according to Joaquin, was not Creole “in the pure sense of the term”. For one thing, the Philippine Creole had more native than Spanish blood, because the Spanish “didn’t come in such numbers as to establish a large community that could intermarry within itself and keep the blood pure”. For another, “even Spaniards who did establish families could keep them Creole for, at the most three generations”. For the Creoles, purity of blood was not really an issue until around the 19th century when the Peninsulares started showing up. Before the Peninsulares started to flock the country the measure of being Filipino (Creole) “was not so much the amount of Spanish blood in their vein as by their culture, position and wealth”. Joaquin goes further to illustrate the idea with an example: “So, a friar’s bastard by a peasant girl might look completely Spanish but would have no status as a Creole, while a man like Ibarra, already two mixed marriages away from a Spanish grandfather, would still be a Creole because a landowner and gentleman”(sic).

As Joaquin would have it, the thing about great writers is that s/he is always writing about her/his times, even when s/he seems to be writing about something else. With this idea in mind, Joaquin established, early on in his discussion that Rizal was not being prophetic and discussing the Revolution of 1896, rather, he was discussing the Revolution of 1872 and looking back on the things that happened then. Rizal, according to Joaquin, was “chronicling the Creole revolution in the Philippines”.

Before the 19th century, “the Creoles were Filipino in the sense that their lives were entirely devoted to the service of the country”. The Creoles’ achievements lies in their keeping the Philippines intact throughout the 200 years when the islands were under threat of invasion from the Chinese, the Japanese, the British and the Dutch. In a sense, Spain acquitted itself from the Philippines because it did its duty as a mother country by protecting us from invasion as compared to the Americans, when less than 50 years after conquering us, we fell to the Japanese.

Everything changed when the Peninsulares began to flood the country. Cheaper, quicker voyage brought the Peninsulares in droves and they usurped the Creoles from the Army, Church and Government. The Creoles were left hanging somewhere between the Peninsulares and Indios and resentment towards the Peninsulares mounted. So begins the Creole Revolution which Rizal was animating in his novels.

During the Creole Revolution, four figures stood out prominently as icons of the school thoughts which circulated during the time. These were Pelaez and Burgos and del Pilar and Tavera. Pelaez and Burgos were eventualists who believed that with sufficient propaganda, reform could be won eventually. The two also thought that the Peninsulares could be expelled without the need for violence. Sadly, eventualism died with Burgos. Tavera and del Pilar on the other hand were filibusteros. The two were affiliated with the Masonic Order and were subversive.

According to Joaquin, the Rizal novels present the two phases of the Creole revolution. The Noli Me Tangere is still in the epoch of Pelaez and Burgos, the eventualists. “Ibarra, who believe that education and propaganda will eventually create a climate of reform, follow the fate of Burgos even to the point of being, like Burgos, implicated in the uprising he knows nothing about”. Ibarra’s “family traces the evolution from the Spaniard to Creole to Filipino”. His line begins with Don Pedro, a Spaniard who comes to San Diego and buys land. He then disappears and his body is found hanging on a Balete tree in his own property. Next is Don Pedro’s son, Don Saturnino who comes to live on the property his father bought. He turns San Diego “from a ‘miserable heap of huts’ into a thriving town”. Then along comes Don Rafel, Ibarra’s father. Don Rafael outrages the Peninsulares “though of Spanish blood, he wears the native camisa”. He defends a native child who was being beaten up by a Peninsular, which landed him in jail where he stays until his demise.

Don Pedro and Don Saturnino are examples of the Creoles, who, after about 200 years of fighting, turn “from arms to plow, from battlefield to farm and shop”. Father and son have the gloom of the frustrated knight who has not been given the chance to play at being hero but have been instead relegated to lesser tasks. Don Pedro goes into business and then commits suicide. Don Saturnino on the other hand turns into a frontiersman, utilizing soldier like qualities, to develop a farm at the edge of the jungle. According to Joaquin, in this instance, “Rizal sees the latter-day Creole as engaged in another conquest, this time of the soil” and “ as long as the Creole was merely defending the land as empire (sic), the land was his but he was not the land’s. But “when the Creole began to work the land himself, he became possessed by what, formerly he had merely possessed”. This is exemplified the third generation Ibarra, Don Rafael who became a part of the land and lost the last vestige of his being Spanish. 

Here, it can also be seen that an attempt is made to ally the Creoles with the Indios. As Joaquin would have it, “Rizal was making an ironic comment on the alliance between the Creole and the Indios: … he makes Elias die to save Ibarra the Creole and it’s Ibarra, not Elias who becomes the revolutionary”.  The funny thing here is that Ibarra never wanted to be a revolutionary: all he wanted was to educate and empower the masses. Unfortunately, the innovations that Ibarra tried to present did not endear him to Peninsulares. It did the opposite. Resentment against him and other Creoles amassed and at the end things turned violent and Ibarra was made to cast off all his innocence and dreams and become an entirely different person. “In the accursed woods where his Spanish ancestor hanged himself, the embittered Ibarra ceases to be a naive Edmund Dantes and becomes a malevolent Montecristo”.

Ibarra, losing everything became Simoun as Dumas’ Edmund Dante became Montecristo. But unlike Montecristo who finds a certain pleasure in exacting revenge, Simoun is unhappy in his quest for retribution. Simoun is “a man who believes salvation can come only from total corruption”. Simoun adhered to the idea that to create one must destroy, kind of like the concept of the Hindu Goddess Kali, the destroyer. As Simoun puts it: “I have inflamed greed… Injustices and abuses have multiplied. I have fomented crimes, and acts of cruelty, so that people may become inured to the idea of death. I have maintained terror so that, fleeing from it, they may seize any solution. I have paralyzed commerce so that the country, impoverished and reduced to misery, may have nothing more to fear. I have spurred ambition, to ruin the treasury; and not content with all this, to arouse a popular uprising, I have hurt the nation in its rawest nerve, by making the vulture itself insult the very carcass that feeds it!”

In Simoun, the reader is made to see that the Creoles also wanted independence and not just liberty. Simoun, like Tavera wanted to destroy all vestiges of what is Spanish in our nation to create a new entity. As Simoun would say: “to make the youth resist these insane cravings for hispanizaion, for assimilation, for equality of rights. Instead of aspiring to be a province, aspire to be a nation”. With Simoun, being the binary opposite of Ibarra, Rizal, as Joaquin saw it to be, able to make a sharp contrast between the two phases of the Creole Revolution.

Those who think of the novels as prophecies think it ironic that while Simoun was all for the revolution, Rizal was vehemently against it. To those, however, who are aware that the novel is a retelling of a revolution already past, the reader sees that Rizal is warning against committing the same mistakes Simoun and his compatriots made: the revolution was just a half-hearted attempt and its potential was not fully realized. Because their hearts was not wholly into it, the revolution failed. Dying, Simon flees and seeks sanctuary with Padre Florentino. Before dying, he makes a confession and offers up his treasures to the priest to use as he sees fit.

As Joaquin would see it, “Rizal seems to annul what he has been saying so passionately, during the novel, through Simoun.  What has sounded like a savage sneering at reform becomes a celebreation of reforms, of spiritual self-renewal. Salvation cannot come from corruption; garbage only produces toadstools”. For Joaquin, Rizal would have the Filipino people “suffer and toil”.

Joaquin sees the Noli Me Tangere as mocking the reformist for being naïve and making the reader see that collaboration will get the nation nowhere. By rights then El Filibusterismo should have been about a revolution that succeeded, but this is not the case. Sadly, the Creole Revolution has failed.

It is interesting that Joaquin has used Alexander Dumas’ Count of Montecristo as a basis of comparison with the two Rizal models. It is interesting because Dumas was Rizal’s favorite writer. The comparative analysis between Edmond Dantes and Crisostomo Ibarra and Count Montecristo and Simoun is quite an insight.

There are some points in the discussion of Nick Joaquin wherein we would like to digress. For Joaquin, the revolution of Simoun failed because it was doomed to failure from the beginning: how can something which was created from hatred succeed? As we would like to see it from this perspective: Simoun attempted to use the teachings of Machiavelli wherein the prince must either completely destroy or not destroy at all. Simoun’s plan had merits but what they lacked was will to have it carried through. Those who were part of the revolution were not fully ruthless and this was their downfall: at the very last moment they decided they had hearts and could not truly destroy those who would stand in their way. Hence, in their moment of weakness they were taken off guard and failed. Simoun might have succeeded if he had not been distracted by the death of Maria Clara. Unfortunately, he was.

It could be said that the novels might have talked of a past failed rebellion. But they could also be prophetic warnings: if you do not have the courage to destroy your humanity and become ruthless in your annihilation of those who stand against you; if you cannot not love; if you cannot truly hate and kill to create love and life you are most obviously doomed to failure.

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2 Responses to “The Creole in the Rizal Hero”

  1. Greetings,
    Just curious, do the Filipino Creoles have any unique/indigenous fighting systems (not referring to arnis de mano/kali/escrima, etc.) as do many of the Latino Creoles such as Argentina and Chile? Some cohorts and I have been looking for such information and have yet to find anything. Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks kindly!

    • Rica Cristina Baldomar Says:

      Hello.
      Based on the literature I’ve encountered the Filipino Creoles emulated European culture and so kept to the classic Spanish fencing. Most Creoles did not integrate the indigenous fighting systems into their own combat styles.

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