That Misquote from Rizal… and why the youth needs to know about it

Published August 30, 2020, 9:11 AM

by MB Lifestyle

By Joel M. Toledo

Photo by Ali Vicoy

Since we are commemorating national language month, this might be the perfect occasion to talk about a famous adage that we’ve always associated with Rizal: the one which goes, “Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita/mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda.

Aside from the most likely paraphrased version that we remember, where “salita” is replaced with “wika” and where certain words get omitted in the second verse, it might be of note to mention that our memory of it came from our parents, history teachers, and partly from a song titled Ako’y Pinoy (often mistaken to be titled Ako’y Isang Pinoy). The song is written and sung by the folk singer Florante, whom some of the younger generation may not remember anymore.

But I digress. Our concern here is the actual quote and its origin. After all, history is always more thought-provoking than trivia. And that is this: Jose Rizal did not write the said lines. In fact, he did not write the very poem, Sa Aking mga Kabata from which the adage came from.

This is a big claim that might raise the eyebrows of many, but totally not without basis. The evidence supporting that Rizal did not write the famed poem have been posited for years by the likes of historian Ambeth Ocampo and one of our national artists for literature, Virgilio Almario.  

It is interesting to note that it is the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) that is spearheading the renewed campaign to correct this aspect of Rizal’s legacy, even as we celebrate the “Buwan ng Wika” this year. Almario wrote an extensive essay on this in his 2011 book Rizal: Makata. He said that, in truth, Rizal never wrote anything in Tagalog, and while it goes against his beliefs as a writer in Filipino, there is no evidence that show and support otherwise.

In the lead paragraph of his essay titled “Tumula Ba si Rizal sa Tagalog?” taken from the said book, Almario said that since Rizal never wrote anything in Tagalog, he did not write Sa Aking mga Kabata and added that the poem is written by someone who likes to write poems in Tagalog in the 20th century.

Almario went on to state that based on written documents of the era, Sa Aking mga Kabata first appeared in the book Kung Sino ang Kumatha ng Florante by Hermenigildo Cruz in 1909, an extensive research on Balagtas and his Florante at Laura. Cruz claimed in the book that Rizal wrote the poem in 1869, when our national hero was just eight years-old.

Dr. Jose Rizal

A few glaring inconsistencies were noted here by Almario, starting with the usage of the language. He said that one, Rizal never used diacritical marks in his letters in Tagalog so that it would not make sense if he had done so in his poems, if he had in fact written any in Tagalog.  And two, Rizal had a different way of spelling and conjugating in Tagalog as was done in Sa Aking mga Kabata. Almario proceeded to cite particular words that were conjugated and spelled differently while providing examples of the most likely way Rizal would have used them in the poem.

Almario’s biggest concern, though, is the use of the word “kalayaan” in the poem. The word appears in two different stanzas of the poem, a word that Almario said Rizal could not have possibly imagined using at the tender age of eight, in 1869. This is because the word did not exist at that time in any of the primary languages of the Philippines. If Rizal had wanted to use its equivalent, he should have settled with the Spanish libertad. Almario cited Rizal having problems with translating that word, among others, in a letter to his brother Paciano in October 1886, after Rizal had finished translating Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell to Tagalog.

Rizal went on saying in the letter that it was good that he remembered M.H. Del Pilar’s translation of his El Amor Patrio to Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa (which first appeared in 1882 in Diariong Tagalog), where Del Pilar used “malaya” and “kalayaan” for Rizal’s “libertad”—our national hero’s first use of the word in his writing.

Rizal opted to devote his time learning and using the Spanish language for his writing and his poetry because it was the language he needed, both in his studies and in becoming a full-fledged propagandist, the keenest, most heard voice of the movement.

So there. Rizal did not write Sa Aking mga Kabata. The 2015 edition of Wikapedia: Balarila at Aralin sa Filipino published by the PCDSPO in Malacañang, likewise has an entry supporting this. Which means the government is actively progressing the same idea and needed awareness. Speculations as to who might have actually written it—Cruz is one possibility—and why no one bothered to inquire extensively before is discussed at length.

But the question remains: Does this really take anything away from Rizal’s legacy and greatness? Almario said that Rizal opted to devote his time learning and using the Spanish language for his writing and his poetry because it was the language he needed, both in his studies and in becoming a full-fledged propagandist, the keenest, most heard voice of the movement. He would go on to write and translate in his own language and give up his life for the country and the people that begot that language.

Photo by Ali vicoy

Of course, we all know the latter. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded, but learning something new is always better. To paraphrase Almario, it’s much better for Rizal and our National Language if we stop blindly reciting Sa Aking mga Kabata and insisting that it was written by a progressive and visionary national hero when he was just eight years old. It’s best for our youth.

This article was first published in the August 2016 issue of the Philippine Panorama.