The humorous, playful side of Dr. Jose Rizal

- Carmen Guerrero Nakpil () - December 4, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Jose Rizal continues to surprise us.

Most of us thought we knew everything about him after more than a hundred years of hero-worship. We wallowed in his many   splendors and never tired of reciting his accomplishments as poet, novelist, ophthalmologist, man of the world, radical intellectual, dragon slayer, and, finally, creator of our nation.

He was ever the glorious but distant savior in the black winter overcoat of his monuments, who had shattered the evil empire that had held us and laid down his life so we could be free.

Of course, newer historical research fleshed him out, to our surprise, to be a well-rounded, complete man of many other parts. Incredibly gifted as he was, we learned that he was also socially adept among all kinds of people. A compulsive traveler, he frequented parlors and cafes, bewitching pretty ladies, quarreling with rivals like M.H. del Pilar and Antonio Luna, indulging in hugely wide interests, comic tales, butterfly hunting, sunken vessels, even home décor for the family house in Calamba.

An unexpected facet of Rizal’s persona has been revealed in the book Haec est Sibylla Cumana. He was so humorous, playful and resourceful that he once invented and produced the material for a whole new parlor game, using a character from the ancient Greco-Roman culture of occult practices, the Sybilla Cumana, seeress and fortune-teller.

In 1895, the year before he died, just before he left Dapitan for Cuba and the Spanish medical corps to which he had volunteered — an act which he probably saw as an end to his exile and his return to Manila to continue the fight with Spain — he produced, in a burst of marvelous creativity, a whole new parlor game.

It was a Spin-the-Top-and-Learn-Your-Future game, using a wooden top and a list of numbered questions and answers on popular, worldly matters like love, business and relationships. He entrusted the materials for playing Sybilla to his sister Narcisa Rizal Lopez who was visiting him in Dapitan.

Through the terrible events that followed — the Revolution against Spain, Rizal’s execution, the Filipino-American War, the American Occupation, World War II — the Rizal Lopez family guarded the treasure with their lives.

It is only this year, 2011, the year of the National Celebration of the 150th Rizal Birth Anniversary, that Francisco Rizal Lopez, a grandson of Paciano Rizal (Jose’s old brother), decided to reveal this family heirloom to the nation.

It is an overwhelming treasure. Packed in an old recycled envelop which bares the New York City address of a machine shop and a sketch by Rizal of their family tree are an octagonal wooden top only a few inches tall, page upon page of questions and answers in Spanish, and two hand-drawn portraits of Sybilla. The answers purportedly given by the sorceress-fortune teller were actually written by Rizal. They provide a panorama of Filipino thought, customs, interests and practices at the end of the 19th century Filipinas. They are also mostly irreverent, risqué and downright funny, a revelation of Rizal’s unfailing sense of humor.

Maybe, with this final gesture, Rizal was telling us not to be afraid of the future and was wishing us joy, a light heart, and companionable, group fun.

(This was taken from the introduction of Haec est Sibylla Cumana, a book written by Dr. Jose Rizal in 1895 while he was in exile in Dapitan).

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