When Pablo Pastells SJ chided Rizal, then in exile in Dapitan, for not dedicating himself to worthier causes, Rizal replied with an eloquent defense, and a ringing affirmation of the least or even the lost cause. I think of his answer as his fanfare for the common man, but on closer reading it reveals itself to be a reply that is, at one and the same time, earnest and ironic. (I do not know if Pastells, at one time Rizal’s spiritual director, sensed the irony of it all.)
What follows is a series of three translations; the first is Raul Bonoan SJ’s, from his definitive Rizal-Pastells Correspondence; the second is Encarnacion Alzona’s, from Miscellaneous Correspondence of Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the many volumes prepared, somewhat hastily, for the Rizal centennial in 1961; and the third is Roman Ozaeta’s, from his translation of Rafael Palma’s biography of Rizal (the title by which we know it now, The Pride of the Malay Race, is Ozaeta’s own; Palma’s award-winning work, somewhat unimaginatively, was called “Biography of Rizal”).
The Spanish original, as reconstructed by Father Bonoan (but without the Spanish orthographical marks, due to my ignorance), follows after.
This particular passage, incidentally, figured in the Indonesian appropriation of Rizal. A high-profile feature article on Rizal in the December 30, 1944 issue of Asia Raya ran the passage (in Indonesian), and two years later a short-lived political magazine published in East Java ran it again. I suspect the young Indonesian journalists at that time of great upheaval heard the fanfare, and took arms.
Your Reverence exclaims on the first page, “What a pity that such an outstanding young man had not lavished his talents on the defence of worthier causes!”
It is possible that there are causes worthier than that which I have embraced, but my cause is a worthy one and that is enough for me. Other causes undoubtedly will bring me more lucre, more renown, more honours, more glory; but the bamboo wood, growing as it does on our soil, is intended to support nipa huts, not the massive structures of European buildings. I am not sorry that my cause is lowly and its returns meagre, but that few are the talents God gave me wherewith to serve my cause. If I were the strong molave instead of the weak bamboo that I am, I would be able to render better service. But he who made things the way they are, sees what the future brings, and does not go wrong in any of his acts—he knows only too well the uses of humble things. (137)
Your Reverence exclaims on the first page: “What a pity that such an excellent young man had not lavished his talents on the defense of better causes!”
It is very possible that there may be better ones than those I have embraced, but my cause is good and this is enough for me. Others undoubtedly will yield more profit, more renown, more honors, more glories, but the cane, on being born in this land, is for the purpose of supporting nipa huts and not the heavy bulk of the buildings of Europe. I do not regret neither the humbleness of my cause nor the meagerness of its rewards but the little talent that God has given me to serve it. If instead of weak cane I had been solid molave, better service I would be able to render. But He who has arranged it thus sees what the future brings, does not err in any of His acts, and knows very well for what use are even the smallest things. (203)
Your Reverence exclaims on the first page: “What a pity that such a remarkable young man has not lavished his talents on the defense of better causes!”
It is very possible that there are causes better than those I have embraced, but my cause is good and that is enough for me. Other causes will undoubtedly bring more profit, more renown, more honors, more glories, but the bamboo, in growing on this soil, comes to sustain nipa huts and not the heavy weights of European edifices. I regret not the humbleness of my cause, not the poverty of its recompenses, but the little talent that God has given me to serve it. If it had been a solid molave instead of the weak bamboo, I could have rendered better service. But He has so disposed sees what the future brings and is not mistaken in any of His acts; He knows very well what the least things are for. (239)
Rizal 1892 (November 11, 1892)
V. R. exclama en la primera pagina: “Que lastima que tan aventajado joven no haya prodigado sus talentos en defensa de mejores causas! …”
Es muy possible que haya otras mejores que la que he abrazado, pero mi causa es buena y esto me basta. Otras sin duda proporcionaran mas utilidad, mas renombre, mas honores, mas glorias, pero la cana, al nacer en este suelo, viene para sostener chozas de nipa y no las pesadas moles de los edificios de Europa. No siento ni la humildad de mi causa, ni la probreza de sus recompensas (!), sino el poco talento que Dios me ha dado para servirla. Si en vez de debil cana, hubiese sido duro molave, mejor servicio habria podido prestar. Pero El que lo ha dispuesto asi y ve lo que trae el porvenir y no se equivoca en ninguno de sus actos, sabe muy bien para que sirven las mas pequenas cosas.