by: Jude Roland Ay-ay

      The commemoration of Jose Rizal’s Death Anniversary is not new, at least for Filipinos who look forward to this legal non-working holiday. The thought of our national hero has represented mixed emotions of sorrow and success. Nonetheless, some of his letters rather show a quite different image of him – a fun-filled, satisfied and hopeful being.  Sure thing, Rizal  had  better  days, even better  than  any other individual who had the  resources  of  enjoying  life to  the  fullest.

      Despite limited resources, the young Jose was able to maximize his experiences across borders. He traveled a lot and enjoyed every place he visited as if it were his first and last.  If only digital cameras existed then, people today would have been able to witness first-hand documentation of his numerous visits to Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and Heidelberg.  Nevertheless, what are left are his letters to his family and friends whom Rizal valued and loved.

      In one of his letters  dated  July 5,  1883,  Rizal  wrote to his  parents and brothers from Paris: “In my previous  letter  of  21  or 22 June I gave you some slight information about the various buildings  and monuments that I  have  seen in this great  city. I write you this to continue giving you some ideas, however slight, of all that I have seen since then”(National Historical Institute 1997, p. 240).

      Rizal had detailed descriptions of the places where in he found interest and excitement. In  Paris,  he toured the National Panorama, a  huge  building  constructed  in  1885, designed  for  diverse  exhibitions  of  arts and  trades. “Admission  usually costs  2  francs  or  50  centimes  on  Sundays  and  Thursdays”(National Historical Institute 1997, p. 240).  Moreover,  Rizal  had  the  opportunity  to  step  inside  the Hotel  Dieu, France’s National Hospital –  this  building  had  three  stories  and  had  five  floors on each side.  “It is very clean and if I’m not mistaken, the hospital accommodates very comfortably 300 patients. It has magnificent verandahs where convalescents take a walk (National Historical Institute 1997, p. 241).

      None of these, however, compare to his visit to the Museum of Orfila.  The famous and extraordinary museum was named after Mathieu Orfila (1787-1853), a French physician and chemist who made significant contributions to toxicology. Orfila had an enormous popularity  in  France,  Spain and  other  European  countries  in  the  nineteenth  century.  He participated in trials which made him famous far beyond the academic community (Richards 2008, p.148).  Rizal  was  among  those  who  benefited  from  his  works  and  might  have  encountered  Orfila’s  name  in  general  biographies. In Rizal’s accounts, the museum was important to medical students because: “All can go there to study human and comparative anatomy including its innermost secrets; from the dwarf to the giant, the fish to man, from the cell to the organ” (National Historical Institute 1997, p. 241).  

      The collections included a table made of human livers, intestines, bones, flesh, lungs and ears. Human organs were arranged in fanciful designs and hardened like marble. Rizal commented that: “The process is unknown, the secret having been lost, it seems” (National Historical Institute 1997, p. 241). Furthermore, a picture of a famous dwarf also caught the attention of Rizal; in contrast, the latter was very well proportioned, neither deformed nor hunchbacked nor is his head big like others. The dwarf was well-groomed and noble, and wore a garb similar to what he wore when he was living.
      Certainly, Rizal enjoyed what he had seen and learned. “I’m planning to come back some seven times to see the museums”(National Historical Institute 1997, p. 241).  The  public  was  admitted  free  and  so  people  strolled,   studied,  sat  on  benches  under  the  trees  and  worked  at their  own  convenience  without  admission  fees.  Rizal was among them – at least one of those who believed that the best things in life are free.

      His collections of numerous specimens of birds, insects, butterflies, shells, snakes and plants in Dapitan have once earned him renowned scientific names like Draco rizali (a small lizard), Apogania rizali (a rare kind of beetle), Rhacophorus rizali (a peculiar frog species) and Spatholmes rizali (fungus beetle) – all gained high praises from European scientists and became useful proofs of the country’s biodiversity. On the 30th of December, Filipinos shall raise his banner once again. Surely, he will be remembered not only as the man behind the famous Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo but also as a curious collector and naturalist. His travels had shaped him for the person he had become, further earning him the belief that even the smallest of all collections have a significant impact to one’s education.

“Reminiscences and Travels of Jose Rizal”; National Historical Institute; 1977.
Richards, Ira Steven; “Principles and Practice of Toxicology in Public Health”; Sage Publication; 2008.
“The Life and Works of Dr. Jose P. Rizal”: Letters received from a particular family; http://rizalinfo.net