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Rizal’s sense of humour- Part 2

(From Renato Perdon’s collection of historical writings)

Cartoon by Dr Jose Rizal

‘It is not mere humour,’ said Fr. Miguel A. Bernard, the late Rizalist and noted historian, ‘although it certainly involves much humour; not as a mere cynicism, although that too, is sometimes present. It is rather the ironic comment of a sharp observer who misses no detail and sees their incongruity.’

The Chapter, ‘A Class in Physics’ of the Fili illustrates this by exposing the stupidity of the friar-teachers, as exemplified by the lazy and outmoded Father Millon. In this section, in a class roll call, Father Millon informed Placido Penitenete, the prototype of the intellectual but uncertain student, that he already incurred fifteen absences and needing just one more to be dropped out. Placido answered: ‘I have only been absent four times and, including today five, if at all.’

But father Millon retored, ‘… You admit you have been absent five times, and God only knows how many more times than that. Now, since I call the roll only rarely, every time I catch anyone absent I give five black marks. Now, then what are five times five?…’

‘Twenty-five,’ Placido said.

‘… So you are even short of ten black marks because I have caught you out only three times,’ the friar added.

The humour in describing this scene did not end here. After marking Placido absent, Fr. Million gave him zero mark for his recitation for the day. Placido naturally objected to this and said: ‘it is impossible to understand, Father, how can one be absent and yet recite the day’s lesson. Your Reverence would say, to be and not to be…’

The friar answered back: ‘… Facts are facts and anybody argues against facts, more better shoot him! Can you not conceive,… that one can be absent from class not knowing the lessons too? Does absence necessarily imply knowledge?…’

The blind religious fanaticism of the Filipinos was described by Rizal in his first immortal novel, the Noli with his usual droll imagination. He presented that holy rivalry between his characters – Kapitan Tiago and Dońa Patrocinio– in such a humorous situation.

In their attempts to win more indulgence from the church, both characters tried to outsmart each other. When, during the La Naval fiesta, Kapitan Tiyago ‘erected a triumphal arch with two facades of quilted cloth hung with mirrors, crystal balls, lanterns and chandeliers, Dońa Patrocinio, not to be outwitted, raised hers, two yards taller and with four facades and double the number of decorations.’

Another incident was when Capitan Tiyago ‘bestowed upon a Virgin a silver scepter set with emeralds and topazes. Dońa Patrocinio not willing to be outsmarted by Kapitan Tiyago ordered the same but trimmed with gold and diamonds from the best jeweller of Manila.’

Making fun of the friars, the most ridiculed person in the history of the Church in the Philippines and their duties apropos the everyday lives of the Filipinos, Rizal speaks through his character in the Fili named Pecson. He said ‘… a friar baptizes you… watches over you in school with loving zeal; a friar hears your first secrets, … starts you on the path of life: … it is a friar who opens the hearts of your sweethearts and makes them susceptible to our sighs, even if you should e sent to the scafold, the friar will be there to accompany you with his prayers and his tears, and you can be sure that he will not abandon you until he sees you well hung and thoroughly ead.’

Continuing his rather solemn speech, the character Pecson said: ‘… Consider for a moment the immense vaccum that their absence will leave in our society. The friars are tireless workers, they are constantly improving and multiplying our race… It is the friars who bind us all in a common fate, in a tight sheaf, so tight indeed that many cannot even move their elbows!

Remove the friar,… life in the Philippines will grow monotonous without the merry laughter of the playful and carousing friar, … those uproarious sermons and pious pamphlets, … the witty contrast between great pretensions and scant wits, … what shall our women do without religious girdles and scapulars… perhaps turning miserly and covetous?… remove the friar and the native will cease to exist for the friar is the Father, the native the world, the friar the artist, the native the stature; all what we are, all that we think, all that we do, we owe to the friar, to his patience, to his labors, to his constant struggle for three centuries to change the way that nature made us.’