OPINION: Celebrating Magellan plus a history lesson on Tomas Pinpin

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 18 2020 10:13 PM

As we approach 2021, there is a brewing stir among Philippine history buffs and ‘usiseros;’ academicians, Filipiniana aficionados and collectors; and the generally simply culture-bound amongst us. Thoughts of 1521 are dominant and rightly so. Next year is the fifth centenary of Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in the Philippines, and of course, the completion of the first circumnavigation of the globe.

Quite naturally, we who are of kindred disposition, welcome the onset of a resurgent bibliophilia, (that means love of books, which could also be an affliction, intellectually, that is) specifically about the beginnings of Philippine History.

Whenever that topic is raised, we think of the monumental 55-volume compendium of translated primary source documents, the celebrated Blair and Robertson “The Philippine Islands: 1493-1898,” serially released from 1903 to 1909. (Emma H. Blair and James A. Robertson)

This signature academic endeavor has not been without serious criticism, though. From a few Spanish scholars, the critique being the selection of documents translated tended to put Spanish colonization of the islands in disparage. On the contrary, however, at the very outset, “B&R” used for its “Historical Introduction” a lengthy essay by the renowned scholar Edward Gaylord Bourne which I found to be laudatory, in fact, exalting, of the achievements of Spain in and for the Philippines.

Unbeknownst to the greater many “B&R” fans and collectors, the publisher Arthur H. Clark Co. of Ohio issued that “Historical Introduction” in a separate volume in 1907, of which only 500 copies were printed. Very few copies survive today, it becoming even rarer than the original set. Professor Bourne wrote it a year before Volume One was released. A surviving copy bears the signature of Mr. Arthur Clark, the publisher. He dedicated it to James Alexander Robertson in 1915 when the latter was still in Manila reorganizing the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas into the modern National Library of which he was the first Director. That there is “provenance!”

That particular copy of Dr. Bourne’s opus is destined to return to the Philippines after having been acquired by a Filipino collector in the U.S. I received a note sharing this information from a fellow aficionado, Mr. Wassily Clavecillas. He is currently the Director of Foundation and Public Affairs for the “Limbagang Pinpin Museum” in Abucay, Bataan. It is a museum dedicated to the memory of Tomas Pinpin. “Limbagan,” by the way, means ‘printing press’ in Filipino.

Photo courtesy of Limbagang Pinpin Museum Facebook

Our history tells us that Tomas Pinpin was the first Filipino printer, writer and publisher, memorialized for his authorship and printing in 1610 of the book, “Librong Pagaaralan nang mga Tagalog nang Uicang Castilla.” (A Tagalog primer on the Spanish language.) He was also the printer of “Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala” by the Dominican Blancas de San Jose, who is mentor of the printing craft to Tomas Pinpin.

This museum was supposed to have opened for business earlier this year but for Covid-19. Abucay is about a 2-hour drive from Manila via San Fernando, Pampanga. Now that pandemic restrictions and strictures are loosening and lifting, a visit to Abucay, specifically to the Pinpin museum, may be one way of reviving local tourism as well as out-of-town conferencing. The venue possesses the required facilities.

Ancient Filipino printing artifacts are of course the mainstay of the museum. Their claim to fame, their supposed “crown jewels,” understandably, are the very rare copies of the aforementioned relics from 1610. They also have a copy of the 1637 14-page book written and printed by Tomas Pinpin, “Sucesos Felices” (Happy Events). The museum claims it is the ‘first newspaper or newsletter of the Philippines.’ I found an entry in Wikipedia stating the same.

Photo courtesy of Limbagang Pinpin Museum Facebook

I found this claim somewhat curious. From our classroom history classes, we were taught that “Gaceta Del Superior Gobierno” of 1811 is the Philippines’ first newspaper. Also, as outstanding an historical figure as Tomas Pinpin is, he is not mentioned in Wenceslao Retana’s authoritative “El Periodismo Filipino.” I am a natural skeptic of nativist nationalist outputs. Suspecting that the claim could be another such a one, I consulted the eminent authority on the history of Philippine Journalism, De La Salle University’s Dr. Jose Victor Torres.

Dr. Torres confirms “Del Superior Gobierno’s” authenticity and singularity. Without diminishing its value being an achievement as early as 1637, “Sucesos Felices” is neither a newspaper nor a newsletter. It is a book: a book on a historical event that occurred 30 years earlier (‘por estos treinta anos passados,’ I could discern from the blurred print). It “describes the Spanish victory over Muslim pirates in Mindanao.” Furthermore, Dr. Torres told me that the error could be traced to a misinterpretation found in the 1966 “The Manila Times Handbook of Journalism” authored by its Managing Editor, Jose Luna Castro. I have a copy of this book, where on pages 3 and 4, facsimiles of the first and the last pages of Pinpin’s “ Sucesos Felices” are reproduced.

I must confess that I have myself been caught up in this bibliophiliac swirl. Over the years I have been acquiring antiquarian Filipiniana augmenting my modest library. Among my latest acquisitions in preparation for the Magellan Quincentennial are: “The Life of Ferdinand Magellan and the First Circumnavigation of the Globe” by F.H.H. Guillemard, London, 1890; and Pigafetta’s “ The First Voyage Round the World”, first English translation by Lord Stanley of Arlderley, published by the Hakluyt Society of London, 1874.

In my wishful reverie, I am on board a motorized ‘batel’ afloat overnight off Suluan islet, southmost of Samar, evening of March 16, 2021. At dawn of the following morning, March 17, we make landfall and wade up the shores of Homonhon.

However best can we celebrate Magellan! Breaking the fast with kinilaw of freshly caught ‘twakang’ aided with a swig of good old faithful tuba! Hala, tagai!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.