A scorching exposé of the Spanish government's corruption and abuses of power, this novel is famed as a catalyst to the Philippine Revolution. Noli Me Tángere was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism written from the point of view of the oppressed. Its passionate tale of an idealistic young Filipino's challenges to authority plays out against a backdrop of repression, torture, and murder. Author José Rizal (1861–96) was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement, which gave voice to a population that had simmered with resentment during three centuries of Spanish rule. Rizal paid with his life for his outspoken writings; a century later, the martyred author remains a symbol of Philippine nationalism as Noli Me Tángere takes its place among the revolutionary classics that have influenced history.
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About the Author
José Rizal (1861–96) was a key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement, which advocated political reforms for his homeland. Rizal's writings helped spark the Philippine Revolution against the colonial Spanish government, and he was executed as a rebel. Today he is regarded as one of the Philippines' greatest heroes, and Noli Mi Tángere is required reading in Filipino schools.
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Don Santiago de los Santos was giving a dinner party one evening towards the end of October in the 1880s. Although, contrary to his usual practice, he had let it be known only on the afternoon of the same day, it was soon the topic of conversation in Binondo, where he lived, in other districts of Manila, and even in the Spanish walled city of Intramuros. Don Santiago was better known as Capitan Tiago — the rank was not military but political, and indicated that he had once been the native mayor of a town. In those days he had a reputation for lavishness. It was well known that his house, like his country, never closed its doors — except, of course, to trade and any idea that was new or daring.
So the news of his dinner party ran like an electric shock through the community of spongers, hangers-on, and gate-crashers whom God, in His infinite wisdom, had created and so fondly multiplied in Manila. Some of these set out to hunt polish for their boots; others, collar-buttons and cravats; but one and all gave the gravest thought to the manner in which they might greet their host with the assumed intimacy of long-standing friendship, or, if the occasion should arise, make a graceful apology for not having arrived earlier where presumably their presence was so eagerly awaited.
The dinner was being given in a house on Anloague Street which may still be recognised unless it has tumbled down in some earthquake. Certainly it will not have been pulled down by its owner; in the Philippines, that is usually left to God and Nature. In fact, one often thinks that they are under contract to the Government for just that purpose. The house was large enough, in a style common to those parts. It was situated in that section of the city which is crossed by a branch of the Pasig river, called by some the creek of Binondo, which, like all rivers of Manila at that time, combined the functions of public bath, sewer, laundry, fishery, waterway, and, should the Chinese water-pedlar find it convenient, even a source of drinking water. For a stretch of almost a kilometre this vital artery, with its bustling traffic and bewildering activity, hardly counted with one wooden bridge, and this one was under repair at one end for six months, and closed to traffic at the other end for the rest of the year. Indeed, in the hot season, carriage horses had been known to avail themselves of the situation and to jump into the water at this point, to the discomfiture of any day-dreamer in their vehicles who had dozed off while pondering the achievements of the century.
On the evening in question a visitor would have judged the house to be rather squat; its lines, not quite correct, although he would have hesitated to say whether this was due to the defective eyesight of its architect or to earthquake and typhoon. A wide staircase, green-banistered and partly carpeted, rose from the tiled court at the entrance. It led to the main floor along a double line of potted plants and flower vases set on stands of Chinese porcelain, remarkable for their fantastical colours and designs.
No porter or footman would have asked the visitor for his invitation card; he would have gone up freely, attracted by the strains of orchestra music and the suggestive tinkle of silver and china, and perhaps, if a foreigner, curious about the kind of dinner parties that were given in what was called the Pearl of the Orient.
Men are like turtles; they are classified and valued according to their shells. In this, and indeed in other respects, the inhabitants of the Philippines at that time were turtles, so that a description of Capitan Tiago's house is of some importance. At the head of the stairs the visitor would have found himself in a spacious entrance hall, serving for the occasion as a combination of music- and dining-room. The large table in the centre, richly and profusely decorated, would have been winking delectable promises to the uninvited guest at the same time that it threatened the timid and naïve young girl with two distressing hours in close company with strangers whose language and topics of conversation were apt to take the most extraordinary lines. In contrast with these earthly concerns would have been the paintings crowded on the walls, depicting such religious themes as Purgatory, Hell, The Last Judgment, The Death of the Just Man, and The Death of the Sinner, and, in the place of honour, set off by an elegant and splendid frame carved in the Renaissance style by the most renowned woodworker of the day, a strange canvas of formidable dimensions in which were to be seen two old crones, with the inscription: Our Lady of Peace and Happy Voyage, Venerated in Antipolo, Visits in the Guise of a Beggar the Pious and Celebrated Capitana Inés, Who Lies Gravely Ill. This composition made up for its lack of taste and artistry with a realism that some might have considered extreme; the blue and yellow tints of the patient's face suggested a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition, and the tumblers and other receptacles which were about her, the cortège of long illnesses, were reproduced so painstakingly as to make their contents almost identifiable. The sight of these paintings, so stimulating to the appetite, and so evocative of carefree ease, might have led the visitor to think that his cynical host had formed a very shrewd opinion of the character of his guests; and that indeed it was only to disguise his judgment that he had hung the room about with charming Chinese lanterns, empty bird-cages, silvered crystal balls in red, green, and blue, slightly withered airplants, stuffed fishes, and other such decorations, the whole coming to a point in fanciful wooden arches, half Chinese, half European, which framed the side of the room overlooking the river, and gave a glimpse of a porch with trellises and kiosks dimly lighted by multi-coloured paper lanterns.
The dinner guests were gathered in the main reception room which had great mirrors and sparkling chandeliers. On a pinewood platform stood enthroned a magnificent grand piano, for which an exorbitant price had been paid, and which this night seemed more precious still because nobody was presumptuous enough to play on it. There was also a large portrait in oils of a good-looking man in a frock coat, stiff and straight, as well-balanced as the tasselled cane of office between his rigid ring-covered fingers, who seemed to be saying: "See what a lot of clothes I have on, and how dignified I look!"
The furniture was elegant; uncomfortable, perhaps, and not quite suited to the climate, but then the owner of the house would have been thinking of self-display rather than the health of his guests, and would have told them: "Shocking thing, this dysentery, I know, but after all you are now seated in armchairs come straight from Europe, and you can't always do that, can you?"
The salon was almost full, the men segregated from the women as in Catholic churches and in synagogues. The few ladies were mostly young girls, some Filipinas, Spaniards the others, hastily covering their mouths with their fans when they felt a yawn coming on, and scarcely saying a word. If someone ventured to start a conversation it died out in monosyllables, not unlike the night-noises of mice and lizards. Did the images of Our Lady in her various appellations, which hung from the walls in between the mirrors, oblige them to keep this curious silence and devout demeanour, or were women in the Philippines in those times simply an exception?
Only one took the trouble of making the lady guests welcome; she was a kindly-faced old woman, a cousin of Capitan Tiago, who spoke Spanish rather badly. Her hospitality and good manners did not extend beyond offering the Spanish ladies cigars and betel-nut chew on a tray, and giving her hand to be kissed by her compatriots, exactly like a friar. The poor old woman ended up by becoming thoroughly bored, and, hearing the crash of a broken plate, hurriedly seized the excuse to leave the room, muttering:
"Jesús! Just you wait, you wretches!"
She never came back.
The men, however, were already in higher spirits. In one corner a number of cadets were vivaciously whispering to one another, sharing scarcely muffled laughs as they glanced about the room, sometimes pointing openly to this or that person. On the other hand two foreigners, dressed in white, went striding up and down the salon, their hands clasped behind them, and without exchanging a single word, exactly like bored passengers pacing the deck of a ship. The centre of interest and liveliness seemed to be a group composed of two priests, two laymen, and an officer, who were at a small table with wine and English biscuits.
The officer was an ageing lieutenant, Guevara by name, tall, stern, with the air of a Duke of Alba left stranded in the lower ranks of the Constabulary roster. He said little, but what he said was heard to be sharp and brief. One of the friars was a young Dominican, Father Sibyla, handsome, well-groomed, and as bright as his gold-rimmed glasses. He had an air of premature gravity. Parish priest of Binondo, and formerly a professor at the Dominican College of San Juan de Letrán, he had the reputation of being a consummate casuist, so much so that in other times, when members of his Order still dared to match subtleties with laymen, the most skilful debater among the latter had never succeeded in trapping or confusing him; the agile distinctions of Father Sibyla had made his antagonist look like a fisherman trying to catch eels with a piece of string. The Dominican seemed to weigh his words and they were few.
By way of contrast, the other friar, a Franciscan, was a man of many words and even more numerous gestures. Although his hair was greying, his robust constitution seemed well preserved. His classic features, penetrating look, heavy jaws, and herculean build, gave him the appearance of a Roman patrician in disguise, and recalled one of those three monks in the German story who in the September equinox would cross a Tyrolean lake at midnight, and each time place in the hand of the terror-stricken boatman a silver coin, cold as ice. However, Father Dámaso was not so mysterious as that; he was a jovial man, and if the tone of his voice was rough, like that of a man who has never held his tongue and who thinks that what he says is dogma and beyond question, his frank and jolly laugh erased this disagreeable impression; one could even forgive him when he thrust out toward the company a naked pair of hairy legs that would have made a fortune at the freak-show of any suburban fair.
One of the civilians, Mr. Laruja, was a small man with a black beard whose only notable feature was a nose so large that it seemed to belong to an entirely different person. The other was a fair-haired young man, apparently a newcomer to the country, who was just then engaged in an excited discussion with the Franciscan.
"You'll see," said the latter. "A few more months in this country, and you'll be agreeing with me; it's one thing to govern from Madrid, and quite another to make-do in the Philippines."
"Take me, for example," Father Dámaso continued, raising his voice to keep the floor, "I've had twenty-three years of rice and bananas, and I can speak with authority on the matter. Don't come to me with theories and rhetoric; I know the natives. Listen, when I first arrived, I was assigned to a town, small it's true, but very hardworking in the fields. At that time I didn't know much Tagalog, but I was already hearing the women's Confessions; we understood one another, if you see what I mean. Well, sir, they came to like me so much that three years later, when I was transferred to a larger parish, left vacant by the death of a native priest, you should have seen all those women! They broke down and cried, they loaded me with presents, they saw me off with brass bands!"
"But that only goes to show ..."
"Just a moment, one moment! Hold your horses! Now, my successor served a shorter time, and when he left, why, sir, he had an even greater escort, more tears were shed, more music played, and that in spite of the fact that he used to flog them more and had doubled the parish fees!"
"Permit me ..."
"And that isn't all. Some time after, I served in the town of San Diego for twenty years; it's only a few months since I ... left it." The recollection seemed to depress and anger him. "Well, twenty years! Nobody will deny that's time enough to know any town. There were six thousand souls in San Diego, and I couldn't have known each and every one of them better if I had given them birth and suck myself. I knew in which foot this little fellow limped, or where the shoe pinched that other little fellow, who was making love to that other dusky lady, and how many love affairs still another one had, and with whom, mind you, and who was the real father of this or that little urchin; all that sort of thing — after all, I was hearing the Confessions of each and every one of those rascals; they knew they had better be careful about fulfilling their religious duties, believe me. Santiago, our host, can tell you I'm speaking the honest truth; he has a lot of property there; in fact that is where we got to be friends. Well, sir, just to show you what the native is really like: when I left, there was scarcely a handful of old crones and lay members of our Order to see me off! That, after twenty years!"
"But I don't see the connection between this and the abolition of the tobacco monopoly," complained the new arrival when the Franciscan paused to refresh himself with a glass of sherry.
Father Dámaso was so taken aback that he almost dropped the glass. He glared at the young man for some time, and then exclaimed with unfeigned shock:
"What? How's that? But is it possible that you can't see what's clearer than daylight? Don't you see, my dear boy, that all this is tangible proof that the reforms proposed by the Ministers in Madrid are mad?"
It was the young man's turn to be puzzled. Beside him Lieutenant Guevara deepened his frown, while Mr. Laruja moved his head ambiguously, uncertain whether to nod approval or shake disapproval of Father Dámaso. The Dominican, Father Sibyla, for his part, merely turned away from them.
"You believe ..." the young Spaniard finally managed to blurt out, his face grave and inquiring.
"Believe it? Just as I believe in Holy Gospel! The native is so lazy!"
"Excuse me," said the new arrival, lowering his voice and drawing his chair closer. "What you have just said interests me very much indeed. Are the natives really born lazy? Or was that foreign traveller right who said that we Spaniards use this charge of laziness to excuse our own, as well as to explain the lack of progress and policy in our colonies? He was, of course, speaking of other colonies of ours, but I think the inhabitants there belong to the same race as these people."
"Rubbish! Pure envy! Mr. Laruja here knows the country as well as I do; ask him, go on, ask him if the ignorance and laziness of these fellows can be matched."
"Quite right," Mr. Laruja agreed promptly, "there is nobody lazier anywhere in the whole wide world than the native of these parts."
"None more vicious, or more ungrateful!"
"Or so ill-bred!"
The fair-haired young man looked uneasily around him.
"Gentlemen," he whispered, "I believe we are in the house of a native. Those young ladies ..."
"Nonsense! You have nothing to worry about. Santiago does not consider himself a native; and in any case he is not around — and if he were, so what? Only newcomers have these crazy ideas. Let a few months pass; you'll change your mind when you have been to enough of their parties and dances, so-called, and have slept on their bamboo cots, and eaten a lot of tinola."
"Is this tinola you speak about a fruit? Something like the lotus which makes men — what shall I say? — forgetful?"
Father Dámaso burst out laughing. "Lotus, balotus! You're talking through your hat. Tinola is just a stew of chicken and squash. How long have you been here, anyway?"
"Four days," replied the young Spaniard, rather put out.
"Did you come out for a job?"
"No, sir. I came on my own account — to know the country."
"Well, sir, you are a rare bird indeed!" exclaimed Father Dámaso, studying him with amusement. "All this nonsense, and you're paying for it out of your own pocket too! You must be mad. There are so many books on the subject, and with a pinch of brains — let me tell you, sir, many famous books have been written with just that, a pinch of brains."
At this point Father Sibyla, the Dominican, abruptly cut short the exchange. "You were saying, Your Reverence, that you had served twenty years in the town of San Diego, and that you had left it. Was not Your Reverence happy there?"
The question was put in an easy, almost casual manner, but Father Dámaso lost his joviality immediately and stopped laughing.
"No," he grunted shortly, throwing himself back heavily in his armchair.
The Dominican went on, with even greater detachment:
"It must be painful to leave a town after twenty years, a town one knows as well as the clothes on one's back. As for myself, I was sorry to leave Kamiling, and I had been there only a few months. But my superiors were acting in the best interests of the Order, and, of course, also in my own."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not)"
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Table of Contents
The Lost Eden, xi,
Translator's Introduction, xiii,
1. A Party, 1,
2. Crisóstomo Ibarra, 11,
3. At Dinner, 14,
4. A Subversive Heretic, 18,
5. Star in the Night, 23,
6. Capitan Tiago, 25,
7. Love on a Balcony, 33,
8. Memories, 38,
9. Local Goings-on, 42,
10. The Town of San Diego, 45,
11. The Bosses, 48,
12. All Saints' Day, 52,
13. Storm Signals, 55,
14. Tasio, 58,
15. The Bell-ringers, 66,
16. Sisa, 69,
17. Basilio, 73,
18. The Faithful Departed, 77,
19. Adventures of a Schoolmaster, 83,
20. The Town Meeting, 90,
21. A Mother's Story, 99,
22. Lights and Shadows, 105,
23. A Fishing Expedition, 108,
24. In the Wood, 118,
25. Elias and Salomé, 128,
26. In the Scholar's House, 133,
27. The Eve of the Fiesta, 142,
28. At Nightfall, 148,
29. Letters, 154,
30. The Day of the Fiesta, 160,
31. In Church, 165,
32. The Sermon, 168,
33. The Derrick, 176,
34. Free Thought, 184,
35. The Banquet, 187,
36. Reactions, 195,
37. First Effects, 200,
38. His Excellency, 203,
39. The Procession, 210,
40. Doña Consolación, 214,
41. Right and Might, 223,
42. Two Callers, 229,
43. The Espadañas, 231,
44. Plans, 241,
45. An Examination of Conscience, 244,
46. The Oppressed, 248,
47. The Cockpit, 253,
48. Two Ladies, 261,
49. A Puzzle, 266,
50. Spokesman of the Oppressed, 268,
51. The Story of Elias, 276,
52. Changes, 282,
53. The Lucky Card, 285,
54. A Good Day Can be Foretold by the Morning, 289,
55. The Conspiracy, 293,
56. Ruin, 299,
57. Rumours, 303,
58. Woe to the Vanquished, 309,
59. The One to Blame, 316,
60. Patriotism and Self-Interest, 320,
61. A Wedding for María Clara, 328,
62. The Chase on the Lake, 338,
63. Father Dámaso Explains Himself, 343,
64. Christmas Eve, 346,