August is “Buwan ng Wika,” fellas.
If there were classes this month, the DepEd divisions would have been very busy staging student contests regarding the national language. Again, the favorite quote would be: “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa hayop at malansang isda,”
First, there would be classroom eliminations, then year-level contests. The winners will then represent the school in the division level. Usually, the following areas are contested: essay-writing, quiz bee, poster-making and oration. The division winner and the winning coach will then advance to the regional level.
My column this time is not about COVID-19 or anything related to it. It’s about the poem “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” purportedly written by Dr. Jose Rizal when he was 8 years old. Actually, I borrowed much my ideas from my idol modern historian, Ambeth Ocampo. In recent years, I have been obsessed by Ocampo’s Looking Back series that I couldn’t wait for his next books to come out. In fact, I have acquired all his books entitled Looking Back, more than 10 of them, plus a treasure other books he authored like Rizal without the Overcoat, Meaning and History and Bones of Contention.
Reading and re-reading Mr. Ocampo’s Looking Back series are a favorite siesta under the mango tree these COVID quarantine days, fellas, especially when all those work-from-home assignments have been accomplished. Reading books in the hardcopy, for me, is far better than going online because I can get back at them anytime I want without subscribing to any online promo.
By the way, who is Ambeth Ocampo, fellas?
Ambeth R. Ocampo is a multi-awarded Filipino historian, academic, journalist and author best known for his writings about our country’s national hero, José Rizal, for his Looking Back series and his bi-weekly editorial page column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He became the chair of the Philippines’ National Historical Institute in 2002 and of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2005.
I became obsessed with Mr. Ocampo’s Looking Back series because they deal with the other side of history. Mr. Ocampo’s style is to glorify and “deglorify” our history characters particularly our national heroes. Any reader would shake his head in unbelief of the revelations that most of our national heroes had their “dark side,” unknown to most Filipinos who just relied on biased textbooks. Deglorifying Dr. Jose Rizal as the author of “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” is one of them.
One of his most astounding books is entitled “Looking Back 5: Rizal’s Teeth Bonifacio’s Bones” which is indeed a treasure. The title alone insinuates that this book is not the ordinary book in the book stand. It’s something different worth anyone’s curiosity. Because of his new researches and discoveries regarding contemporary Philippine history, I have shifted my interest in the “unknown” portions of our history.
I cannot help but agree to his findings that Jose Rizal did not write “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” with the now byword lines: “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika/masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda?”
In Looking Back 5, pp. 34-40, he explained why Rizal was not the one who wrote the poem. It was also published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on August 22, 2011 and for the sake of argument and info, I found the article worth reprinting and reading by all Filipinos for enlightenment:
Ambeth Ocampo wrote:
IN 1892, Jose Rizal began a new novel in Tagalog. He realized that in order to reach a wider readership in his country, he had to write in his native tongue.
During this time of exile in Hong Kong, his elder brother, Paciano, had completed a translation of the “Noli Me Tangere” from the original Spanish into Tagalog that was corrected and finalized by Rizal. Envisioned as a popular edition with illustrations by Juan Luna, this book was never to be. The original manuscript translation by Paciano has since been missing.
Nevertheless, Rizal completed a chapter of his satirical Tagalog novel and gave it the title “Makamisa” (After the Mass), but unfortunately, he did not have the energy to complete it. He stopped writing in Tagalog and began anew in Spanish. The drafts of this work were first published in 1993 in my book “Makamisa: The Search for Rizal’s Third Novel.”
Rizal spoke and wrote in Tagalog fluently, but he was unable to write a whole novel in his mother tongue. This is quite surprising for is he not, like Manuel L. Quezon, inextricably linked to the adoption of Tagalog as the national language of the Philippines?
Most quoted line
Isn’t the most quoted line from Rizal’s many poems that from “Sa Aking Mga Kabata” that goes, “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika/masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda?” (He who loves not his own language/is worse than a beast and a stinking fish.)
Did Rizal write this poem at 8 years old? Did Rizal write this poem at all?
No original manuscript, in Rizal’s own hand, exists for “Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” traditionally believed to be his first poem. Rizal had 35 years to publish or assert authorship. He did not. The poem was published posthumously, a decade after his execution, as an appendix to “Kung sino ang kumatha ng ‘Florante: Kasaysayan ng Buhay ni Francisco Baltazar’ at pag-uulat nang kanyang karununga’t kadakilaan” (Manila: Libreria Manila-Filatelico, 1906.) by the poet Herminigildo Cruz.