Memoirs of a Student in Manila:
Chapter 1: My Birth - Early Years
By P. Jacinto (01)
I was born in Calamba on 19 June 1861, between eleven and midnight, a few days before full moon. It was a Wednesday and my coming out in this vale of tears would have cost my mother her life had she not vowed to the Virgin of Antipolo to take me to her sanctuary by way of pilgrimage. (02)
All I remember of my early days is I donít know how I found myself in a town with some scanty notions of the morning sun, of my parents, etc.
The education that I received since my earliest infancy was perhaps what has shaped my habits, like a jar that retains the odor of the body that it first held. I still remember the first melancholy nights that I spent on the terrace [azotea - Zaide] of our house as if they happened only yesterday -- nights full of the saddest poem that made impression of my mind, the stronger the more tempestuous my present situation is. I had a nurse [aya - Zaide] who loved me very much and who, in order to make me take supper (which I had on the terrace on moonlit nights), frightened me with the sudden apparition of some formidable asuang, [ghosts], of a frightful nuno, or parce-nobis, as she used to call an imaginary being similar to the Bu of the Europeans. They used to take me for a stroll to the gloomiest places and at night near the flowing river, in the shade of some tree, in the brightness of the chaste Diana. . . . . Thus was my heart nourished with somber and melancholic thoughts, which even when I was a child already wandered on the wings of fantasy in the lofty regions of the unknown.
I had nine sisters and one brother. My father, a model of fathers, had given us an educational commensurate with our small fortune, and through thrift he was able to build a stone house, buy another, and to erect a little nipa house in the middle of our orchard under the shade of banana trees and others. There the tasty ate [atis] displays its delicate fruits and bends its branches to save me the effort of reaching for them; the sweet santol, the fragrant and honeyed tampooy, the reddish macupa, here contend for supremacy; farther ay are the plum tree, the casuy, harsh and piquant, the beautiful tamarind, equally gratifying to the eyes and delightful to the palate, here the papaya tree spreads its broad leaves and attracts the birds with its enormous fruits, yonder at the nangca, the coffee tree, the orange tree, which perfumes the air with the aroma of its flowers; on this side are the iba, the balimbing, the pomegranate with its thick foliage and beautiful flowers that enchant the senses; here and there are found elegant and majestic palm trees loaded with enormous nuts, rocking its proud crown and beautiful fronds, the mistresses of the forests. Ah! It would be endless if I were to enumerate all our trees and entertain myself in naming them! At the close of the day numerous birds came from all parts, and I, still a child of thee years at the most, entertained myself by looking at them with unbelievable joy. The yellow caliauan, the maya of different varieties, the culae, the maria capra, the martin, all the species of pitpit, joined in a pleasant concert and intoned in varied chorus a hymn of farewell to the sun that was disappearing behind the tall mountains of my town. Then the clouds, through a whim of nature, formed a thousand figures that soon dispersed, as such beautiful days passed away also, leaving behind them only the flimsiest remembrances. Alas! Even now when I look out the window of our house to the beautiful panorama at twilight, my past impressions come back to my mind with painful eagerness!
Afterwards comes night; it extends its mantle, sometimes gloomy through starred, when the chaste Delia (03) does not scour the sky in pursuit of her brother Apollo. But if she appears in the clouds, a vague brightness is delineated. Afterwards, as the clouds break up, so to speak, little by little, she is seen beautiful, sad, and hushed, rising like an immense globe, as if an omnipotent and invisible hand is pulling her through the spaces. Then my mother would make us recite the rosary all together. Afterward we would go to the terrace or to some window from which the moon can be seen and my nurse would tell us stories, sometimes mournful, sometimes gay, in which the dead, gold plants that bloomed diamonds were in confused mixtures, all of them born of an entirely oriental imagination. Sometimes she would tell us that men lived in the moon and the specks that we observed on it were nothing else but a woman who was continuously spinning.
When I was four years old I lost my little sister (Concha) and then for the first time I shed tears caused by love and grief, for until then I had shed them only because of my stubbornness that my loving proving mother so well knew how to correct. Ah! Without her what would have become of my education and what would have been my fate? Oh, yes! After God the mother is everything to man. She taught me how to read, she taught me how to stammer the humble prayers that I addressed fervently to God, and now that Iím a young man, ah, where is that simplicity, that innocence of my early days?
In my own town I learned how to write, and my father, who looked after my education, paid an old man (who had been his classmate) to give me the first lessons in Latin and he stayed at our house. After some five months he died, having almost foretold his death when he was still in good health. I remember that I came to Manila with my father after the birth of the third girl (Trinidad) who followed me, and it was on 6 June 1868. We boarded a casco, (04) a very heavy craft. I had never yet gone through the lake of La Laguna consciously and the first time. I did, I spent the whole night near the catig, (04) admiring the grandeur of the liquid element, the quietness of the night, while at the same time a superstitious fear took hold of me when I saw a water snake twine itself on the bamboo canes of the outriggers. With what joy I saw the sunrise; for the first time I saw how the luminous rays shone, producing a brilliant effort on the ruffled surface of the wide lake. With what joy I spoke to my father for I had not uttered a single word during the night. Afterward we went to Antipolo. Iím going to stop to relate the sweetest emotions that I felt at every step on the banks of he Pasig (that a few years later would be the witness of my grief), in Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo, Manila, Santa Ana, where we visited my eldest sister (Saturnina) who was at that time a boarding student at La Concordia. (05) I returned to my town and I stayed in it until 1870, the first year that marked my separation from my family.
This is what I remember of those times that figure in the forefront of my life like the dawn of the day. Alas, when shall the night come to shelter me so that I may rest in deep slumber? God knows it! In the meantime, now that Iím in the spring of life, separated from the beings whom I love and most in the world, now that sad, I write these pages. . . let us leave Providence to act, and let us give time to time, awaiting from the will of God the future, good or bad, so that with this I may succeed to expiate my sins.
8 Dulambayan, (06) Sta. Cruz, Manila, 11 September 1878.
(01) P. Jacinto was the first pen name used by Rizal in his writings. His other pen names were Laong-Laan and Dimas Alang.
(02) Filipinos, Spaniards, and Chinese venerated the Virgin of Antipolo since Spanish colonial days. The month of May is the time of pilgrimage to her shrine. She is also called Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, the patron saint of travelers. One legend says her image saved from shipwreck the crew of a ship that bore her from Acapulco to Manila many years ago.
(03) The name of Diana, goddess of the moon and of hunting.
(04) Casco is a Philippine river craft, made of wood, used for passengers and freight. The catig is the vesselís outriggers made of bamboo canes.
(05) A well-known boarding school for girls, the Sisters of Charity administered La Concordia College. It was founded in 1868 by Margarita Roxas de Ayala, a wealthy Filipino woman, who gave her country home called La Concordia in Sta Ana, Manila to the school and hence its popular designation. Its official name is Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion.
(06) Rizal Avenue, named for the national hero, absorbed this old street. At that point its name was dropped.