LIFE, WORKS, AND WRITINGS
A HERO IS BORN, 1861
was born in Kalamba on the 19th of June 1861 between
eleven and twelve o'clock at night, a few days before the
full of the moon."
DR. JOSE RIZAL, the greatest hero of
the Philippines, was a Rizal" genius. He was richly dowered by God
with superb intellectual, moral, and physical qualities. Truly, he
ranks with the world's geniuses. He was an anthropologist, botanist,
businessman, cartographer, dramatist, economist, educator, engineer, essayist,
entomologist, ethnologist, farmer, folklorist, geographer, grammarian,
historian, historian, horticulturist, humorist, lexicographer, linguist,
musician, novelist, painter, physician, poet, philologist, philosopher,
polemicist, psychologist, satirist, sculptor, sportsman, sociologist, surveyor,
traveler, and zoologist. More than all of these, he was a patriot,
hero, and martyr. Unlike many geniuses, he consecrated his God-given
talents, and even sacrificed his own life, for the redemption and welfare
of his people. Verily, a man of his heroism and versatility appears
but once in the history of any nation.
The World When Rizal Was Born. In 1861, the year when Rizal was born, the Philippines was browsing redolently beneath the shadow of the Cross. Pax Hispanica reigned over the entire archipelago. The people, despite their bondage to Spain, were enjoying their serene, simple, and Christian way of life. Comparatively speaking, they were better off than the subject peoples in the English, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies during that age. The Spanish governor-general then was a good militarist, General Jose Lemery, whose achievement worthy of historical citation was the establishment of the Politico-Military Government of the Visayas and Mindanao. No bloody Muslim piratical raid, no serious native uprising, no frightful upsurge of banditry, and no threat of foreign invasion marred the general tranquility of the land.
Beyond the frontiers of the Philippines, the world was seething in the
throes of political strifes, social upheavals, and international intrigues.
Gargantuan China was prostrate, impotent to stop the predatory Western
powers who were busy looting her riches. Her futile wars with England
and France were ended by the infamous "Conventions of Peking" (October
22, 1960), in which she lost more territories and was forced to grant more
commercial concessions to the imperialist "foreign devils". To worsen
matters for the tottering Manchu dynasty, the Taiping Rebellion (18-50-64)
was ravaging the rich provinces south of the Yangtze.
The Imperialist Western Powers, flushed with their victories in China, tried to make a repeat performance in Japan, whose door was unlocked in 1854 to the world by the American commodore, Matthew C. Perry. Their efforts were, however, foiled by the valiant Japanese people, whose Bushido spirit outmatched the intruders' superior firepower.
In Indo-China, the French troops of Emperor Napoleon III, strangely aided by Filipino soldiers from Manila, were smashing down Annamese resistance. In 1858 Saigon was captured by the combined Filipino-French forces, and four years later France acquired Cochin China.
By fire and sword, the British East India Company armies were establishing the British raj (rule) all over the sub-continent of India and beyond the western frontiers to Burma. The destructive Sepoy Mutiny of 18547, last serious resistance to British imperialism in India, was suppressed at a staggering cost of money and human lives. England had to fight three Burmese Wars (1824-26; 1862-63; and 1885-86) to subdue Burma.
In January, 1861, Benito Juarez, Indian-blooded hero, entered Mexico City,
at the head of his victorious Indian and Mexican troops, and proclaimed
the restoration of Mexican independence. Archduke Maximilian of Austria,
who had dreamed of ruing Mexico with the help of the French bayonets, was
March of 1861 saw the emancipation of the serfs in Russia by Czar Alexander II. The following month of Civil War exploded in the United States over the slavery question and the issue of secession.
Europe was in turmoil. The German States were being forged into one nation by Bismarck, notwithstanding Austria's opposition. South of the Alps, Cavour and Garibaldi, in defiance of Austria's might, were rallying the Italians to unite and fight for Italia Redenta. In France, the Second Napoleonic Empire, beset by domestic and foreign troubles and misgoverned by Napoleon III was crumbling to pieces. Only England, of all the Great Powers, was experiencing relative peace and prosperity. Under the able rule of Queen Victoria she defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853-56), acquired rich colonies in the East, and attained a new height of glory in diplomacy and literature.
Spain, unlike England, fared ill under the rule of a woman -- Queen Isabela II (1833-68). She had lost her rich colonies (except Cuba and Puerto Rico) in the New World. Her decadence was accelerated by the chronic Carlist war, the ruinous political squabbles, and the bungling policies of her inept monarch.
Such was the global situation at the time of Rizal's advent.
The Birth of a Hero. Near midnight of Wednesday, June 19, 1861, when the Philippines was in deep slumber, a frail baby-boy was born to the Rizal family in Calamba, Laguna. It was a moonlit night, being "a few days before the full of the moon." The delivery was exceedingly difficult, and the mother almost died. Her seemingly miraculous survival was attributed to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. Years later Jose Rizal recorded in his boyhood memoirs: "It was a Wednesday, and my arrival in this valley of tears would have cost my mother her life had she not vowed to the Virgin of Antipolo that she would take me on a pilgrimage to that shrine"1
The baby boy was baptized by Rev. Rufino Collantes in the Catholic church of Calamba on June 22, 1861, three days after his birth. His godfather was Rev. Pedro Casañas. He was named "Jose" by his pious mother, in honor of St. Joseph. It was customary for Catholic parents to name their children after the saints.
1Vida P. Jacinto, Memorias de Un Estudiante de Manila, 1861-1881. This is the memoirs of Dr. Rizal during his student days in Manila. He wrote it in Spanish on 43 pages of ruled paper, under the pseudonym "P. Jacinto." An incomplete English version of the Memoirs was published by Austin Craig in 1927. A complete version in the original Spanish was edited by Señores Alberto and Tomas F. Barretto and published by San Miguel Brewery (Manila) in 1949. The first complete English translation was written by Leon Ma. Guerrero, Jr. in 1950 and was published by the Bardavon Book Company (Manila) in 1951.
The full name of the baby boy, who was destined to become the greatest
genius and hero of the Philippines, was Jose Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso
Parents. Jose was the seventh of the eleven children of Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonso Realonda. Both father and mother were model Filipino parents -- devoutly religious, educated, industrious, affectionate but strict, hospitable and civic-spirited.
The hero's father, Francisco (1818-1898), was born in Biñan, Laguna, on May 11, 1818 and died in Manila on January 8, 1898, at the age of 80. He was an educated farmer having studied Latin and Philosophy at the College of San Jose in Manila. In early manhood, after his mother's death, he moved to Calamba and became a tenant-farmer of the Dominican estate. He married a college-bred Manileña, Teodora Alonso Realonda, on June 28, 1848. Dr. Rizal, his greatest child, affectionately called him "a model of fathers." He was a quiet serious, frugal man, taller than the average Filipino, with wide shoulders, brown complexion, prominent forehead, large dark eyes, large ears, and firm jaws.
The hero's mother, Teodora (1826-1911), was born in Manila on November 8, 1826 and died in Manila on August 16, 1911, at the age of 85. A graduate of Santa Rosa College, she was a talented woman with high culture, business ability, and literary gift. Dr. Rizal, loving her as much as his father, said of her: "My mother is more than a woman of ordinary culture; she knows literature and speaks Spanish better than I ... She is a mathematician and has read many books." Aside from helping her husband in farming and business, she looked after the education and moral training of her numerous children.
The Rizal Children. God blessed the marriage of Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonso Realonda with eleven children -- two boys and nine girls. These children were as follows:2
1. Saturnina (1850-1913). She was the oldest of the
Rizal children. She married Manuel T. Hidalgo of
2. Paciano (1851-1930). He was the older brother of Dr.
Rizal. After his younger brother's execution, he joined
the revolution and became a general. After the Revolution
he retired to his farm in Los Baños and led the life of a
gentleman farmer. He died an old bachelor, though he had
a common-law wife.
3. Narcisa (1852-1939). She married Antonino Lopez, a
school teacher of Morong, Rizal.
4. Olympia (1855-1887). She married Silvestre Ubaldo, a
telegraph operator from Manila.
5. Lucia (1857-1919). She married Mariano Herbosa of
6. Maria (1859-1945). She married Daniel Faustino Cruz of
2Esteban A. de Ocampo, The Rizal Family. Manila, 1954.
7. JOSE (1861-1896). The "lucky seven" in a family of eleven
children. He married Josephine Bracken, a pretty Irish from
8. Concepcion (1862-1865). She died at the age of three.
9. Josefa (1865-1945). She did not marry; she died an old maid.
10. Trinidad (1868-1951). She died an old maid, life Josefa.
11. Soledad (1870-1929). She was the youngest of the Rizal
children. She married Pantaleon Quintero of Calamba.
Ancestry of Rizal. Jose Rizal, like a typical Filipino, was of mixed ancestry. In his veins flowed the bloods of both East and West -- Negrito, Indonesian, Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.
Rizal's paternal great-great-grandfather was a Chinaman named Domingo Lam-co, a native of Chinchew, "China's City of Spring." His father, Francisco, was a great-grandson of Lam-co. Both his father's father and grandfather had been Capitanes (town mayors) of Biñan. In 1849, when Governor Narciso Claveria ordered the Filipino families to choose new surnames from a list of Spanish family names, the children of Lorenzo Alberto Alonso adopted the name "Realonda". Hence Teodora Alonso became Teodora Alonso Realonda.
The Name "Rizal". The original name of the Rizal family was "Mercado." It was a surname adopted in 1731 by Domingo Lam-co, the paternal Chinese ancestor. In English, it means "market". Evidently, Lam-co liked it because it appealed to his business nature and also because it reminded him of his Chinchew ancestors who were mostly merchants.
In the year 1849, as mentioned above, Governor Claveria issued a decree directing all Filipino families to choose new surnames from a list of Spanish family names. The purpose of this gubernatorial decree was to Hispanize the Filipino surnames which were difficult for the Spanish authorities to pronounce, much less to remember.
Jose's father, Francisco, scanned the list of Spanish surnames sent to Calamba, such as "Cruz", "Santos", "Ramos", "Rivera", etc. He did not like these surnames. Being a man of independent character, he chose his own surname Rizal, which was not in the list recommended by the Spanish authorities. He considered this new family name as more fitting for his farming clan than Mercado which signifies "market".
The term "Rizal" came from the Spanish word ricial which means "green field" or "new pasture."
The Rizal Family. The Rizal family was one of the richest families in Calamba during the times prior to its
persecution by the friars. Rizal's parents, by their industry,
frugality, were able to honestly build up a large fortune. By present-day
standards, they were rich. They were the first to build a large stone
house in Calamba, the first to own a carruaje (horse-drawn carriage),
the first to have a home library (estimated to consist of more than
1,000 volumes), and the first to educate their children in the colleges
The Rizal family raised rice, corn, and sugar on large tracts of land rented from the Dominican estate of Calamba. It operated a sugar mill, a flour mill, and a home-made ham press. It engaged successfully in the dye and sugar business and in the barter trade (exchange of products with other towns).
Teodora, the hero's mother, owned a store in town which sold many articles of trade needed by the people. She was a successful businesswoman, and the profits of the store augmented the family income.
In due time, the Rizal family was able to purchase another stone house in Calamba. This was another proof of the family affluence.
Not only was the Rizal family one of Calamba's richest families; it was, withal, highly esteemed and respected. Combining wealth and culture, hospitality and charm, it participated in all social and religious activities in the community.
Don Francisco and Doña Teodora were gracious hosts to al visitors -- priests, alferez (lieutenant of thhe Guardia Civil), Spanish officials, and Filipinos -- during holidays, such as Christmas, town fiesta, and other occasions. Beneath the Rizal roof, all guests, irrespective of their color, social position, or economic status, were treated equally -- with all courtesy and hospitality.>
The Rizal Home. The house of the Rizal family was one of the distinguished stone houses in Calamba during the Spanish times. It was rectangular in shape, "of adobe stone and hardwood with a red-tiled roof." Behind it were the poultry yard full of turkeys and chickens and the garden of tropical fruit trees -- atis, balimbing, macopa, papaya, santol, tampoy, etc.
It was a happy home where parental affection and children's laughter reigned. By day, it hummed with the jubilant noises of the children at play. By night, it echoed with the dulcet notes of family prayers. Both parents and children were harmoniously united by strong ties of affection and understanding.
Such a wholesome home, naturally, bred a wholesome family. And such a family was the Rizal family.
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