Culture Art

This Las Casas exhibit wants visitors to appreciate the more human side of Rizal

Held in the same structure where the national hero's mother grew up in, "Rizal in Germany" showcases a man in the midst of a crossroads. Done in partnership with the Ortigas Library, its foremost aim is to spark curiosity.
ANCX Staff | Aug 01 2019

There’s a gripping story in the Ortigas Library’s new exhibit “Rizal In Germany” about the national hero having an indecisive moment in publishing his finally completed Noli Me Tangere manuscript. It was a bitter cold Berlin winter in 1886 and Rizal was sitting by a fire, feeling miserable and worried he may have tuberculosis.

Viewers at the Rizal in Germany exhibit.

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He wondered, why go through this printing which could get his parents in trouble. Perhaps he was foolish to think that the manuscript would effect the reforms he wanted. Besides, he didn’t have the money to even begin finding a printer. He stood up and was about to throw the manuscript into the fire when he stopped himself.

This and other human foibles in Rizal’s life are dealt with in the exhibition which opened on July 24 at the “Biñan House” in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. 

A panel with a map on Rizal's vacation trip up and down the Rhine River and adjoining cities in 1886.

The 19th century Biñan House is where Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonso, grew up in. It was dismantled, trucked, and rebuilt at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a theme park with a collection of saved 19th and early 20th century houses and buildings. The exhibit is on the ground floor of the house.   

ANCX spoke with John Silva, exhibition curator and executive director of the Ortigas Library, about the intriguing exhibit, and any new dimensions and insights to be gathered for the visitors to Las Casas Filipinas.

Glass case with reproductions of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere manuscript, his Tagalog translation of William Tell by Schiller, sketches and parts of the Noli manuscript.

What’s different about this exhibit?

When it comes to Rizal we have the martyrdom moment down pat. We know almost everything about that morning, the bowler hat, his turning around when he was shot, and even the white dog by the soldiers. But not much more. So, I combed our library having one of the largest Rizaliana collections around, and selected historical tidbits and stories about him when he was alive and happy and free.

 

Why Rizal in Germany?

Rizal was in his seven year stint in Europe and he stayed in Germany last. It was there he matured, developed his bearing, published his subversive novel, and geared up to return home and bear the consequences.

Rizal in Germany ad poster.

The exhibit focuses on Rizal as an ethnographer. That’s news to many people.

And to me, too. When we visited Germany several years back to research, then Philippine Ambassador Sta. Maria-Thomeczek took us to several ethnological museums to gawk at the incredible Philippine artifacts, textiles, and tools collected and donated by Rizal to these museums. There, on file catalog cards for each item, Jose Rizal is named as collector, with his domicile written as Dapitan. Incredible. The photos we took of the artifacts—pristine and well-preserved 130 years later—are in this exhibit.

File card catalogue of Bagobo pants donated by Rizal circa 1888. Jose Rizal cited as _Sammler_ (collector)

You pointed out Rizal’s fears in publishing the Noli in one of the exhibition panels. Why?

Rizal’s life has been lionized and accentuated more by his execution. There is no breathing space for Rizal, the human being, like focusing on that wintry night of indecision. He became human worthy of emulation. You don’t get enthused emulating a saint. 

Ethnic shirt, Mindanao, donation by Jose Rizal (Sammler means collector).

 

What do you wish to convey in the exhibit?

It’s a compact exhibit. Meant to make the visitor get new insights and highlights of Rizal’s life. I resist saying motherhood statements like how relevant Rizal is to now, or how we can be inspired. I toss this exhibit back at the reader by daring them; If this sparked curiosity, then to the library they go, or Rizaliana books they buy and read. They could look up German society, its culture, its Reformation heritage and philosophy. Rizal made intellectual leaps while in Germany. The challenge is to know the historical and geographical context he lived in so we could emulate it. That’s a big challenge. Then again, that’s why his life had heroic proportions.

 

The Rizal in Germany exhibit runs through December 30, 2019 at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, Bagac, Bataan. For more information, visit LasCasasFilipinas.com