Rizal’s translated ‘El Filibusterismo’ finds new readership in the Netherlands

Jofelle P. Tesorio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2020 01:10 AM

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—For “Dutchipinos,” or Dutch-Filipinos who grew up or were born here, and are trying to reconnect with their Filipino roots, there is now a Dutch translation of Jose Rizal’s second novel “El Filibusterismo” (“De Revolutie: Een Filipijnse Roman”).

The translation was launched recently by the Philippine Embassy in the Netherlands and the Knights of Rizal The Hague Chapter, nearly 8 months after the warm reception of the Dutch-language “Noli Me Tangere” (“Raak Me Niet Aan”), hundreds of copies of which have been sold since its official launch in June 2019.

Translator and publisher Gerard Arp said it was the goal to make both books available in Dutch, especially “El Filibusterismo,” a first. “Noli” was first translated in Dutch by a certain Dr. A.A. Fokker some time in the 1920s.

The Dutch-translated El Filibusterismo. Jofelle P. Tesorio, ABS-CBN News

“The books are, in my opinion, one story, with one common idea and goal of the author. The next goal is to make a complete, annotated edition in one book or e-book, but that may take a while. The enthusiastic reception of the ‘Noli’ sped up the translation of the ‘Fili’,” he said.

While the main target audience are Dutch readers interested in the Philippines, its history, culture or history and colonialism in general, Arp said this is also intended for the many Filipinos in the Netherlands and Belgium. 

“To give them to the next generation, the ‘Dutchipinos’ as we used to call our daughter . . . Not for compulsory reading but to put in the bookcase for the moment when they, maybe after a visit to the Philippines, ask what was the Philippines like in those days, and who this Rizal was,” Arp said.

During the launch, Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jaime Victor Ledda gave a brief on the Dutch-Philippine relations. In his presentation, he also highlighted some of Rizal’s correspondence with his mentor, Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, in which the national hero indicated his interest in studying Dutch, meeting the renowned Dutch scholar on Asian languages professor Hendrik Kern and securing the book “Max Havelaar” written by Multatuli, pen name of Dutch anti-colonial writer and historian Eduard Douwes Dekker.

“We have emphasized here how Dr. Jose Rizal thought of how important the relations with the Netherlands,” Ledda said.

An academic and member of the Multatuli Society, Jan Mulder provided insights into the socio-cultural context in the late 19th century and shared similarities between the novels of Rizal and Multatuli. “Noli” was first published in 1887 in Berlin, followed by “Fili” in 1891 in Ghent, Belgium while Multatuli’s “Max Havelaar” was published in 1860.

According to some scholars, Rizal studied the book of Multatuli and served as one of his literary inspirations. Mulder said while Multatuli wrote from the point of view of one from a colonizing country which took an anti-colonial stance, Rizal was the first who wrote from the colonized territory’s point of view.

Meanwhile, Lucien Spittael, an avid researcher of Rizal and Knights of Rizal member in Belgium gave insights on the life of Rizal in Europe in the 1880s. He traced the cities Rizal visited and even the houses he lived on and wrote his novels and other works. In 1887, Rizal was the first Asian member of the Society of Ethnology in Germany.

Translator Gerard Arp and Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jaime Victor Ledda. Jofelle P. Tesorio, ABS-CBN News

According to Arp, Rizal’s books are very much relevant today.

“I cannot speak for the Philippines, but in general I think Rizal’s books are mostly relevant because of his convictions and ideas. Both novels are full of interesting thoughts, about a fair and just government, about non-violence, religion, etc. Nowadays some of his thoughts come back in current themes like national identity, neo-colonialism or modern slave labor,” Arp said.

The Dutch translation of “Fili” was based on the first English translation of “The Reign of Greed”, and compared with the Spanish original text. In editing, it was compared with the original manuscript (the Manila facsimile edition of 1961), according to Arp. He made it a point not to simplify the text but to keep it original.

“Rizal often used long sentences, especially when describing his ideas and making a point, like in a monologue. This can be tricky in translation, as it cannot always be cut up in smaller sentences, while readers nowadays are more used to short, fast-paced sentences and action. Also, some older expressions or words in Spanish can be interpreted and translated in different ways. It was a choice to make the translation as close to the original as possible,” he said.

Asked about the differences between the “Noli” and “Fili”, Arp said the former is an “anti-colonial novel, describing all the cruel injustices by the religious institutions and priests and also a colorful, funny and sad description of the old life in the countryside . . . with a feeling of forgiveness and patience in waiting for gradual reforms.” The latter is “much more political, and in a way more modern”.

Translator Gerard Arp and Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jaime Victor Ledda with Knights of Rizal members in Europe. Jofelle P. Tesorio, ABS-CBN News

“You recognize the rise of radical politics of that time in Europe, with socialist and anarchist factions. Also, I think Rizal had an interest in all the modern progress, inventions and gadgets — machines, automatons, and sunglasses. What the books have in common is the cleverly constructed story, with many hidden clues and the unhappy ending, where everything is revealed. But at the same time, they both have an open ending. After the “Fili” you wonder what will happen next . . . ‘What will happen to Basilio? ‘How did he and Isagani fare in the coming revolution?” Arp added.

Anton Lutter of the Knights of Rizal in The Hague commended the efforts of Arp in making Rizal’s two novels accessible to the Dutch-speaking population.

“We think that is important that the legacy of Jose Rizal be shown to the public. It (Fili) has never been translated before into Dutch so we are supporting it . . . Rizal was inspired by the Dutch author Multatuli so there was a connection between Rizal and The Netherlands and not everyone knows it so I think there’s a big relevance in publishing it in the Dutch language,” he said.

During the launching, the Knights of Rizal in The Hague was joined by their counterparts in Belgium and other European officers. Several leaders of the Filipino community and the diplomatic corps, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, were also present during the event.