Why Was The Rizal Hero A CREOLE?

October 12, 2010

Since Rizal and his novel’s characters are popular once again, thanks to the recent controversies involving a popular tour guide and the Catholic hierarchy, I thought it would be nice to share this.




In Ibarra & Simoun Flash the Two Phases of the Other,

Earlier Philippine Revolution

By Quijano de Manila

THE RIZAL NOVELS, so morbid of matter but so comic in manner, defy canonization. The Bible of the race won’t toe today’s line on the race. Like the Hebrew scriptures, from which its priestly editors vainly tried to purge a polytheistic myth, the Rizal novels contain elements our stricter sensibilities would purge away.

The figure of María Clara, for instance, continues to scandalize us. Why did Rizal choose for a heroine a mestiza of shameful conception? The reply of the 1930s was that María Clara was no heroine to Rizal but an object of satire – a theory that wreaks havoc on the meaning of satire, besides being refuted by the text of the novels, which reveals a Rizal enraptured by his heroine. Today’s iconoclasts have got around the dilemma by simply rejecting María Clara. Rizal may have been, at least during the writing, taken in by her; we are not. Whether she was a heroine to him or not, she is no heroine to us; and all the folk notions of María Clara as an ideal or as a symbol of the Mother Country, must be discarded. Thus would we purify Rizal.

Said Rizal of his heroine:

“Poor girl, with your heart play gross hands that know not of its delicate fibers.”

But having disposed of his outrageous heroine, we are still confronted by his equally impossible hero, impossible because he offends our racial pride. Why should the hero of the Great Filipino Novel be, not an Indio Filipino, but a Spanish “Filipino,” with the quotes expressing our misgivings. For Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra belonged to that class which alone bore the name Filipino today, though most of the Philippine Creoles (and the Rizal hero is an example) had more native than Spanish blood.

A Creole class in the pure sense of the term never existed in the Philippines. The Spanish didn’t come here in such numbers as to establish a large enough community that could intermarry within itself and keep the blood pure. What was their most numerous progeny – the friar’s bastards—inevitably vanished into the native mass within a generation. But even the Spaniards who did establish families could keep them Creole for, at the most, three generations. The exceptions are rare. The Rochas (Malacañan used to be their manor) are probably the most durable, dating back to some two centuries; the Téuses (the present Spanish ambassador belongs to this clan) have endured about a century and a half but have sunk into obscurity; the Elizaldes (of very mixed blood) go back only a century, or some four generations. The commoner process was followed by such families as the Legardas and Aranetas, which now seem purely native principalia but began as Creole.  This process was arrested and reversed by the great tribe that may be called the Ayala in gereral, though it included the Sorianos, Zobels, Meliáns and Roxases. By the time of the Revolution, this Creole tribe was already headed by an Indio, Don Pedro Roxas, and seemed on its way to becoming as “native” as the Legardas and Aranetas; but succeeding generations restored the tribe to Creole status with heavy infusions of European blood. ’Tis said that the sons of the tribe are sent to Europe as soon as they reach puberty and are not allowed to come home until they have married “correctly” abroad.

Up to around midway of the 19th century, however, the Philippine Creoles had no such scruples about blood purity and were distinguished as a class apart, as “Filipinos,” not so much by the amount of Spanish blood in their veins as by their culture, position and wealth. So, a friar’s bastard by a peasant girl might look completely Spanish but would have no status as a Creole, while a man like Ibarra, already two mixed marriages away from a Spanish grandfather, would still be a Creole because a landowner and gentleman. He was an Ibarra far more than he was a Magsalin – and there’s significance in his Indio surname, which means to pour, to transfer, to translate, for Ibarra was indeed a translation into Asia or Europe, or, possibly, the other way around.

The question is: Why did Rizal make this “translated Filipino” his hero? Was Rizal trying to identify with the Creole? Are the illustrators right who give the tall, hairy, high-nosed and red-cheeked Ibarra the smaller, smoother features of Rizal?

A great writer is always writing about his time, even when he seems to be writing about something else; and Riza’s novels are historical parables, though we have never quite related to them to their particular period. We know the novels are subversive, that they are about revolution, but we assume that Rizal the Revolution of 1896, to which he was looking forward as a prophet; and we are therefore dumbfounded that Rizal, when the Revolution came, chose to disown it, and to enlist on the side of Spain. We secretly suspect a failure of nerve in the man who had so vigorously prophesied that Revolution.

But what was Rizal prophesying? Might he not have been talking about another Revolution altogether, a revolution he was more sympathetic to? The novels were, after all, written a decade before 1896; and we know that the events that most influenced Rizal, the must have shaped those novels, were the events with which he grew up, that impelled a change in name, the translation from Mercado to Rizal – and from the Philippines to Europe.

The clue is in the dedication to El Filibusterismo:

“To the memory of the priests, Don Mariano Gómez, Don José Burgos and Don Jacinto Zamora, executed on the gibbet of Bagumbayan on February 28, 1872.”

Throughout the years he was growing up, Rizal was aware that a revolution was going on in his country, a revolution inspired at first by the person, then by the memory of Burgos the Creole, and in which the people most involved belonged to the Creole class, for the Propaganda may be said to have begun, in the 1850s, with Father Peláez, as a Creole campaign against the Peninsulars. Rizal also knew that Spain was overthrown in America by the various uprisings of the Creoles there (Bolívar, San Martín, Iturbide)—that is, by the class that had education, money, talent and prestige to conduct a  revolt with success. (The revolutions of the Indios would come later, as with Juárez in Mexico). During Rizal’s youth, it looked as if what happened in America would happen in the Philippines: the Creoles were restive, were rising, were apparently headed for an open clash with the Peninsulars. So, when Rizal wrote his novels, he was writing about an actual movement, and writing to animate it. He was not looking forward to 1896; he was looking back to 1872 and all its subsequent repercussions. He was chronicling the Creole revolution in the Philippines.

The Creole

For 200 years – through the 17th and 18th centuries – the Philippine Creoles were Filipino in the sense that their lives were entirely devoted to the service of the country: to expanding or consolidating the national frontiers and to protecting them. Their great labor, their achievement, was keeping the Philippines intact through two centuries when, it may be said, there was not a single day that the islands were not under threat of invasion: by the Chinese, the Japanese, the British, the Dutch. For two centuries the country was under constant siege. The Dutch Wars, for instance – a crucial period in our history – lasted 50 years. A single slip in the vigilance and our history would have been different; there would be, to stress a point now invisible to us, no Philippines at all: we would be a province today of Indonesia and nobody would be arguing about what a Filipino is.

During those 200 years the Creole faltered only once, very briefly, with the British invasion, but he quickly recovered balance. The conquering Americans of the 1900s  would sneer at Spanish empire in the Philippines as inept, against all the evidence of history; for if the prime duty of a mother country to a colony is to protect it from invasion, then we’ll have to admit that Spain, in its almost 400 years in the islands, acquitted itself with honor, especially when we remember that within the 50 years after the American occupation, the Philippines fell, and fell unprotected, to an invader, while the Americans looked the other way, toward Europe. Another point: the Tagalogs and Pampangos who fought with the Creoles to defend the islands during those centuries of siege, we now sneer at as “mercenaries” – but is it mercenary to fight for one’s country?

The labor of defense was so exhausting it partly explains why there are no really old Creole families in the Philippines. For his pains, the Creole might be rewarded with an encomienda, which did not mean possessing the land entrusted to his care but merely gave him the right to collect the tribute there for the two space of generations: his own lifetime and that of his heir. The head tribute was at first eight reales (or a peso), was later increased to ten reales, then reduced to four. In return, the encomendero pledged himself, like a feudal lord, to the defense of the folk under his care, (which meant being ready at any moment to be called to military service anywhere in the country) and also to their religious instruction; but he was forbidden to stay within his encomienda or even to sleep two consecutive nights there, to prevent him from turning into a little local tyrant.

The encomienda system lasted but briefly; and the Philippine Creole depended more for subsistence on the Galleon trade and on mining. He worked the iron mines of Antipolo when the Philippines still had a cannon foundry industry and, later, the gold mines of Paracale. Being a gentleman, manual labor was forbidden him; he could enter only the Army, the Church and the Government. The Creoles formed our first secular clergy, our first civil service. Only late in Spanish times, with the relaxation of the restrictions on landowning, did the Creole turn to agriculture, dedicating himself to sugar culture in Negros and Pampanga, to abaca culture in Bicolandia, to cattle culture in the various rancherías of the North.

All this time the C reole – and the Philippine colony in general – lived in isolation from Spain, and the neglect fostered the autonomous spirit. The Creole was a “Filipino,” not a “Spaniard.”. He controlled the government; Madrid was represented only by the governor-general, who was so detested as a
“foreigner” he had to make an accounting of his stewardship before he could return to Madrid. The voyage from Europe to the Philippines was so long and so expensive and the mortality among passengers so high that only the hardiest of Spaniards reached the islands, and once here they had to cast in their lot with the country forever, since a return trip was next to impossibel. The immigrating Spaniard, therefore, broke with Spain forever when he came to the Philippines. If we further consider that many of those were Basques and Cataláns – that is, folk with a tradition of rebeliousness  against the Madrid Government – the temper of the Philippine Creale becomes evident. Rizal made his Ibarra the descendant of a datel.!

With the revolt  of Spanish America and the opening  of the Suez Canal, Madrid came closer to Manila; and the quicker cheaper voyage now brought to the Philippines, as Rizal’s Teniente Guevara observed, “lo más pérdido de la península.” These peninsular parasites, however, considered themselves several cuts above the “Filipino” – that is, the Creole – and began to crowd him out of Army, Church and Government. The war between Creole and Peninsular had begun.

This was during the first three quarters or so of the 19th century, when a practically autonomous commonwealth found itself becoming a Spanish colony in the strict sense of the word. The previous centuries of Spain in the Philippines had been years of Christianization, unification and development, but only the final century, the 19th, was a period of hispanization; and how effectively it was is displayed by the fact that within less than a century the hispanization campaign had produced a Rizal and the ilustrados, men so steeped in Spanish and European culture they seemed to have a thousand years of that culture behind them. The campaign to hispanize the islands was intensifying when the Revolution broke out: the government was opening normal schools for the training of native teachers to spread Spanish throughout the population.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Creole was rising, stirred into insurgence by the example of a Mexican Creole of the Manila garrison. The Novales revolt in the 1820s planted the idea of separatism. When Mexico, having successfully revolted, seceded from Spain, the treaty between the two countries permitted the two imperial provinces that were formerly ruled through Mexico, to choose between joining Mexico or remaining with Spain. The Philippines thus got the chance to break away from Spain in 1821, for the Philippines was one of these two imperial provinces dependent on Mexico, the other being Guatemala, which then comprised most of Central America. Guatemala opted to join Mexico but the Philippine Government – or its Spanish governor-general anyway – chose to keep the islands under Spain. However, the revolt of the Mexican Creole captain, Novales – who was proclaimed “emperor of the Philippines” – one day and executed  on the cathedral square of Manila the next day – shows that there was a segment of Creole opinion in the Philippines that favored joining the Mexicans in their independence. Local Creoles had heard that, in Mexico, a Creole (Iturbide) had been proclaimed “emperor,” after a revolution that had, for one of its aims, equality between Spaniards and Creoles.

The current of mutinous opinion swelled and, two decades after the Novales revolt, erupted mysteriously in the Conspiracy of the Palmeros, an affair that involved a Creole family so prominent (it was related to the Azcárragas) all records of what appears to have been a coup attempt have been suppressed – though the Rizal student should perk his ears here, for a family close to the rulers of the state it’s trying to undermine suggests the figure of Simoun, the sinister eminence behind the governor-general.

A decade later, in the 1850s, the Creole revolution becomes manifest in Father Peláez, canon of the Manila Cathedral, who started the propaganda for the Filipinization of the clergy. Peláez perished in the Cathedral during the great earthquake of 1863, but he left a disciple who would carry on his work: José Burgos.

With Burgos, we are already in Rizal country. He and his mentor Peláez – like Rizal himself – were what might be called “eventualists”: they believed that, with sufficient propaganda, reforms could be won eventually, autonomy could be gained eventually, and the hated Peninsulars could be ejected without firing a shot. Burgos is the Creole of the 1870s, resurgent if not yet insurgent: a Liberal in the manner of Governor-General De la Torre; and already conscious of himself as a Filipino distinct from the Spaniard. His counterpart in the secular sphere is Antonio Regidor (implicated in the same Motín de Cavite that cost Burgos’ life), who replied to the Peninsula’s disdain of the “Filipino” by showing, in his person, that a Filipino could be more cultured than a Peninsular. It was in this spirit that the Philippine Creoles would vaunt a Filipino, Ezpeleta, had risen to the dignity of bishop and that another Filipino, Azcárraga, had become a government minister in Madrid.

The fate of Burgos (the garrote) and of Regidor (exile) put an end to the idea of eventualism. The Creoles that come after – mostly educated on the Continent and affiliated with the Masonic Order – are already frankly filibusteros – that is, subversives—and their greatest spokesman is Marcelo H. del Pilar, the Creole who undoubtedly possessed the most brilliant mastery of Spanish a Filipino ever wielded but whose talent got deadened by journalistic deadlines. But the extremest development of the Creole as filibustero was Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, a man who came to loathe both the Malay and the Spaniard in himself so intensely he became the first of the sajonistas and, as a member of the Philippine Commission of the 1900s, fought for the implantation of English in the Philippines, in a virulent desire to uproot all traces of Spanish culture from the islands. For good or evil, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, whom we hardly remember, was one of the deciders of our fate.

The Rizal novels probe these two phases of the Creole revolution. In the Noli Me Tangere, we are still in the epoch of Peláez and Burgos, the eventualists; and Ibarra, who believes that education and propaganda will eventually create a climate of reform, follows the fate of Burgos, implicated in an uprising he knows nothing about. But in El Filibusterismo, we are already in the period of del Pilar and Pardo de Tavera; and the sinister Simoun,  white-locked and long-bearded, is no longer a propagandist but a corrupter, and craves not only the fall of Spanish rule but the failure of the hispanization movement.


The family of Rizal’s hero traces the evolution from Spaniard to Creole to Filipino. The great-grandfather still bears the original Basque name, Eibarramendía, which his descendants abbreviate to Ibarra. Don Pedro Eibarramendia is a Manila businessman; when his warehouse burns down he accuses his bookkeeper of having started the fire and thus ruins not only the hapless bookkeeper but all his descendants, the last of whom is the tragic Elías. Don Pedro is a fearful figure, with his deep-sunken eyes, cavernous voice, and “laughter without sound,” and has apparently been in the country a long time, for he speaks Tagalog well. He suddenly appears in San Diego, is fascinated by a piece of deep woods in which are thermal waters, and buys up the woods with textiles, jewels and some coin. Then he vanishes as suddenly as he has come. Later, his rotting corpse is found hanging on a balite tree in the woods. Terrified, those who sold him the woods throw his jewels into the river and his textiles into the fire. The woods where he hanged himself become haunted.

A few months later, his son Saturnino appears in San Diego, claims the property, settles in the village (where still roam deer and boar) and starts an indigo farm. Don Saturnino is as gloomy as his father; taciturn, violent, at times cruel, but very active and industrious; and he transforms San Diego from “a miserable heap of huts” into a thriving town that attracts new settlers and the Chinese.

But the abortive Creole revolution did create a climate of subversion; to that extent, Simoun had succeeded. There’s a clear line of development from 1872 to 1896, as we acknowledge by accepting Burgos as a natinal hero. But what happened in America did not happen here. An actual Creole revolt did not break out; the Indio beat the Creole to the draw; and when the hour of reckoning came the Creole sided with the hated Peninsulars – though he later somewhat redeemed himself by joining the second phase of the Revolution, the war against the Americans. When that, too, collapsed, the Creole returned to the side of the Imperialists: the Partido Federalista was the Creole party. The failure of that party removed the Creole from the mainstream of the national life – though, ironically, the very failure led to the realization of the old Creole dream: it was a Quezon that took possession of Malacañang.

The modern descendants of the Creole have had no one fate. The very rich one, who were, in the 1870s, becoming more and more Filipino, have today become more and more Spanish. The poorer ones have had, as Sinibaldo de Mas predicted, to search for a new homeland, Australia being the current goal of their exodus. Others, as a modern Creole observes: “Go to the Rizal Theater any night and you’d think you were in a foreign country.” But there’s another segment that seems to be reviving what might be called the Spirit of ’72  and which may be studied in a Peláez or a Manahan, tentative Hamletish figures that baffle us with their scruples, their militancies, their enigmatic “honor.” Are they Ibarra or Simoun? Are they resuming an unfinished revolution of their own: the revolt of the Creole?

The jewels of Simoun wait in the sea.

Or are they surfacing at last?

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  1. What a silly article. Well, it’s par for the course, a smorgasbord of witty repartee, pseudohistorical salad bar, reduction of our past to race obsession.

    Look at the _mentality_ my friend, look at the _cultural hybridization process. My God, of course there were creoles involved in the revolutionary process. But don’t gainsay the historians and the witnesses who lived in those times. Burgos was not a creole. Rizal’s hero Ibarra was not a creole. And the revolution had several phases and in no phase were the creoles the main protagonists. The educated middle class were propagandists, followed by the urban workers (KKK), then the provincial gentry (Aguinaldo son of the mayor, his followers professionals and businessmen like himself), and finally, the rural KKK, the last to surrender to the Americans (Sakay).

    What about the Chinese Filipinos? They were very important to the revolution. But no, from this man’s view, they weren’t even there.

    This article is pure entertainment. And it’s very fuzzy writing, Quijano de Manila isn’t a historian, he’s a spectator of the past. But hey, the creoles’ descendants probably like this take. Makes them sound like the owners of our history, doesn’t it.

    Tía Isabel

    1. Hello Tía Isabel,

      Padre Burgos was a criollo. To be a criollo during that time, one doesn’t have to have pure Spanish blood from peninsular parents. They can be locally born people of pure or mostly Spanish ancestry (see Tulio Halperín Donghi’s THE CONTEMPORARY HISTORY OF LATIN AMERICA). In Padre Burgos’s case, his father was a Spanish officer (José Tiburcio Burgos) and a mestiza mother (Florencia García).

      Be that as it may, judging from the above description and the fictitious Crisóstomo Ibarra’s lineage, it can be said that he is indeed a criollo. Caste systems vary from place to place. Although we have many similarities to our Latin American brothers, our caste system is a bit different from theirs.

      1) Peninsular = both parents are from Spain.
      2) Insular = full-blooded Spaniard born in here in our country. Strictly speaking, they are the true criollos if we are to follow the Latin American example. However…
      2) Criollo = a person whose one parent is a peninsular (I’m not sure if an insular parent counts) and the other is indio (or native born, i.e., Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Bicolano, Hiligaynón, etc.). Padre Burgos is a classic example. Another term for this racial class is Español Filipino
      3) Mestizo = Half Chinese, half Spaniard. Today, however, we call white-skinned Filipinos —regardless of racial ancestry (such as those celebs on TV)— as mestizos even if they really aren’t from a historical perspective.

      Since Florencia García was a mestiza, that makes her son not just a criollo but a mestizo terciado.

      “What about the Chinese Filipinos? They were very important to the revolution. But no, from this man’s view, they weren’t even there.”

      When you say “Chinese Filipinos”, do you refer to the mestizos? If so, they may have participated in the revolution against Spain. But they did not lead it.

      You are correct, though, that the KKK rebellion was not led by criollos (but because of the classifications I have just stated, the foregoing statement would be debatable; this is especially true if we are to investigate the Spanish ancestry of Bonifacio et al.). But the revolution(s) that Nick Joaquín (yes, Nick was a historian; if he was not, then your dear friend Arnaldo is himself a mere “spectator of the past”) was referring to were those of Novales (a physical one) and Peláez/Burgos (an ideological one).

      “This article is pure entertainment.”

      This article certainly did not entertain me. It enlightened me.

      Thank you, and best regards,

      Pepe Alas

        1. @pepe – Its funny how mestizo is always associated with the white skinned hispanic descendants. Almost no mention is ever made in our history books of the chinese mestizo’s. To many historians they’re seen more Filipino than a criollo. This is the reason why many Spanish men who fought as Filipinos during the revolution are but forgotten.

  2. @ Tia Isabel – Nick Joaquin has always had an interesting take on the revolution. Of course the revolution does not belong exclusively to one group I believe this.

  3. Tia Isabel, did you even read the article? The writer defined creole as already a product of mixed marriages between Europeans and Natives. What the writer is saying is that Jose Rizal was a Chinese Mestizo, in fact already an indio as he claims himself to be, yet why did he choose a creole for his hero and it is Simoun the creole who becomes the revolutionary and not Elias the indio.

  4. If I may share, Jose Rizal predicted the Philippines to be a world power after independence and had reason to be believe so. In his time, the Philippines was among the most affluent societies in the continent. Yet his beloved islands turned out to be the sick man of Asia.

    The article is located at http://donrafaelibarra.blogspot.com/

  5. Greetings,

    Just curious if the Filipino Creoles had their own unique/indigenous fighting systems that followed them through the generations as is true of Latino Creoles like those from Argentina and Chile. Some cohorts and I have been looking for info on this but as of yet, nothing. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks kindly!

  6. Greetings,
    Just curious, do the Filipino Creoles have any unique/indigenous fighting systems (not referring to arnis de mano/kali/escrima, etc.) as do many of the Latino Creoles such as Argentina and Chile? Some cohorts and I have been looking for such information and have yet to find anything. Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks kindly!

    1. Outside those you already mentioned none. Weapon fighting involving swords most likely. Arnis, which is basically systemized and evolved from several styles. My grandfathers created their own system in Cebu, there are many others.

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