Published on December 31, 2013.
Tucked away in Jose Rizal’s longest letter in Tagalog is his own summary of the most important lessons he had learned, at the ripe age of 27. He was asked by Marcelo del Pilar in February 1889 to write a letter “a las muchachas de Malolos,” the valiant women who had the temerity to ask for the right to attend night school. Writing from London, Rizal composed a lengthy letter on equality and education, on reason and religion; he ended it with a statement of principles (“itong pinaninindigang mga sabi”).
I thought it might be worthwhile to attempt a new translation of these precepts, one that is both faithful to the text (unlike some of the versions available online, which sometimes slide into paraphrase) and at the same time idiomatic in the use of English. The first draft follows:
First of all. The villainy of some lies in the cowardice and carelessness of others.
Second. One is oppressed because of the lack of love for one’s self and because of excess regard for the oppressor.
Third. Ignorance is slavery, because as a man thinks, so he is: a man without the capacity to think for himself is not human; the blind who follows the thought of others is like a beast who follows the rope that tethers him.
Fourth. He who desires to conquer himself should help others conquer themselves, because if you neglect your fellowman you will be neglected, too: a single broom’s bristle is easy to break, but a bound broom is hard to [break].
Fifth. If the Tagalog woman will not change [her ways,] she should not raise children but merely give birth to them; the power over the household should be removed from her, because if not she will unthinkingly betray husband, child, country and all.
Sixth. Man is born equal, naked and without chains. Not created by God to be enslaved, not gifted with intelligence to be deceived, and not endowed with reason to be fooled by others. It is not vanity to refuse to worship a fellow human, to enlighten intelligence and to use reason in all things. What is vanity is making one’s self an object of worship, keeping others in ignorance, and imposing one’s will on what is right and just.
Seventh. Consider well what kind of religion they teach us. Look closely whether that is God’s will or the teachings of Christ to save the poor from poverty, to ease the suffering of those who suffer. Remember everything they are teaching you, the objective of all the sermons, what is behind the masses, novenas, rosaries, scapulars, images, miracles, candles, belts and many others emphasized, proclaimed, and insinuated day after day into your will, ears, and eyes, and find the beginning and end, and then compare that religion with the clean religion of Christ, and see whether your kind of Christianity is the same as a carefully tended milking cow, or maybe the same as a fattened pig, not fattened out of love, but to be sold for a higher price and for greater profit.
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The original, as recorded in “Epistolario Rizalino,” Teodoro M. Kalaw’s indispensable edition of Rizal’s correspondence, follows. If I made a mistake in the translation or if you have a better version of any or all seven of Rizal’s precepts, please drop me a line, either as comment or by email.
Ang una-una. Ang ipinaguiguing taksil ñg ilan ay nasa kaduagan at kapabayaan ñg iba.
Ang ikalawa. Ang iniaalipustá ng isa ay nasa kulang ñg pagmamahal sa sarili at nasa labis ñg pagkasilaw sa umaalipustá.
Ang ikatlo. Ang kamangmañga’y kaalipinan, sapagkat kung ano ang isip ay ganoon ang tao: taong walang sariling isip, ay taong walang pagkatao; ang bulag na taga sunod sa isip ng iba, ay parang hayop na susunodsunod sa talí.
Ang ika-apat. Ang ibig mag tagó ñg sarili, ay tumulong sa ibang mag tagó ñg kanila, sapagkat kung pabayaan mo ang iyong kapuá ay pababayaan ka rin naman; ang isa isang tingting ay madaling baliin, ñguní at mahirap ang isang bigkis na walis.
Ang ikalima. Kung ang babaing tagalog ay dí mag babago, ay hindí dapat magpalaki ñg anak, kundí gauing pasibulan lamang; dapat al’sin sa kanya ang kapangyarihan sa bahay, sapagka’t kung dili’y ipag kakanulong ualang malay, asawa, anak, bayan at lahat.
Ang ika-anim. Ang tao’y inianak na paris-paris hubad at walang talí. Dí linalang ñg Dios upang maalipin, dí binigyan ñg isip para pabulag, at dí hiniyasan ñg katuiran at ñg maulol ñg iba. Hindí kapalaloan ang dí pag samba sa kapuá tao, ang pag papaliwanag ñg isip at ang paggamit ñg matuid sa anomang bagay. Ang palalo’y ang napasasamba, ang bumubulag sa iba, at ang ibig papaniigin ang kanyang ibig sa matuid at katampatan.
Ang ikapito. Liniñgin niniyong magaling kung ano ang religiong itinuturó sa atin. Ting’nan niniyong mabuti kung iyan ang utos ñg Dios ó ang pañgaral ni Cristong panglunas sa hirap ñg mahirap, pangaliw sa dusa ñg nag dudusa. Alalahanin niniyo ang lahat ñg sa iniyo’y itinuturó, ang pinapatuñguhan ñg lahat ng sermon, ang na sailalim ñg lahat ñg misa, novena, cuintas, kalmen, larawan, milagro, candilá, correa at iba’t iba pang iguinigiit, inihihiaw at isinusurot araw araw sa iniyong loob, taiñga, at mata, at hanapin niniyo ang puno at dulo, at saka iparis niniyo ang religiong yan sa malinis na religion ni Cristo, at tingnan niniyo kung hindí ang iniyong pagkakristiano ay paris ñg inaalagang gatasang hayop, ó paris ñg pinatatabang babuy kayá, na dí pinatatabá alang alang sa pagmamahal sa kaniya, kundí maipag bili ng lalong mahal at ng lalong masalapian.
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Rizal’s letter ends with an infrequent but I think characteristic touch: He invokes Balagtas. “Tubo ko’y dakila sa puhunang pagod.” The famous line from “Florante at Laura” is both deeply pragmatic and exhortatory: My profit will be greater than the sweat [I] invested. That seems to me an invitation to action.