Jose Rizal's Bitter Sweet Life in Dapitan

Jose Rizal's Bitter Sweet Life in Dapitan 
© 2013 to present by Jensen DG. Mañebog

THE DEPORTEE could have stayed in the Dapitan parish convent should he retracted his ‘religious errors’ and made a general confession of his past life. Not willing to accede to these main conditions set by the Jesuits, Jose Rizal instead opted to live at commandant’s residence they called ‘Casa Real’.

The commandant Captain Ricardo Carnicero and Jose Rizal became good friends so much so that the exile did not feel that the captain was actually his guard. Later in his life in Dapitan, Rizal wrote a poem ‘A Don Ricardo Carnicero’ honoring the kind commandant on the occasion of his birthday on August 26, 1892.
In September 1892, Rizal and Carnicero won in a lottery. The Manila Lottery ticket no. 9736 jointly owned by Rizal, Carnicero, and a Spanish resident of Dipolog won the second prize of Php 20, 0000. Rizal used some part of his share (Php 6, 200) in procuring a parcel of land near the coast of Talisay, a barrio near Dapitan.
On a property of more than 10 hectares, he put up three houses made of bamboo, wood, and nipa. He lived in the house which was square in shape. Another house, which was hexagonal, was the barn where Rizal kept his chickens. In his octagonal house lived some of his pupils—for Rizal also established a school, teaching young boys practical subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and Spanish and English languages. Later, he constructed additional huts to accommodate his recovering out-of-town patients.

Daily life as an exile

During his exile, Rizal practiced medicine, taught some pupils, and engaged in farming and horticulture. He grew many fruit trees (like coconut, mango, lanzones, makopa, santol, mangosteen, jackfruit, guayabanos, baluno, and nanka) and domesticated some animals (like rabbits, dogs, cats, and chickens). The school he founded in 1893 started with only three pupils, and had about more than 20 students at the time his exile ended.
Rizal would rise at five in the morning to see his plants, feed his animals, and prepare breakfast. Having taken his morning meal, he would treat the patients who had come to his house. Paddling his boat called ‘baroto’ (he had two of them), he would then proceed to Dapitan town to attend to his other patients there the whole morning.
Rizal would return to Talisay to take his lunch. Teaching his pupils would begin at about 2 pm and would end at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. With the help of his pupils, Rizal would spend the rest of the afternoon in farming—planting trees, watering the plants, and pruning the fruits. Rizal then would spend the night reading and writing.

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Rizal and the Jesuits
The first attempt by the Jesuit friars to win back the deported Rizal to the Catholic fold was the offer for him to live in the Dapitan convent under some conditions. Refusing to compromise, Rizal did not stay with the parish priest Antonio Obach in the Church convent.
Just a month after Rizal was deported to Dapitan, the Jesuit Order assigned to Dapitan the priest Francisco de Paula Sanchez, Rizal’s favorite teacher in Ateneo. Many times, they engaged in cordial religious discussions. But though Rizal appreciated his mentor’s effort, he could not be convinced to change his mind. Nevertheless, their differences in belief did not get in the way of their good friendship.
The priest Pablo Pastells, superior of the Jesuit Society in the Philippines, also made some attempts by correspondence to win over to Catholicism the exiled physician. Four times they exchanged letters from September 1892 to April 1893. The debate was none less than scholarly and it manifested Rizal’s knowledge of the Holy Scriptures for he quoted verses from it. Though Rizal consistently attended mass in Dapitan, he refused to espouse the conventional type of Catholicism.

Achievements in Dapitan

Rizal provided significant community services in Dapitan like improving the town’s drainage and constructing better water system using empty bottles and bamboo joints. He also taught the town folks about health and sanitation so as to avoid the spread of diseases. With his Jesuit priest friend Sanchez, Rizal made a huge relief map of Mindanao in Dapitan plaza. Also, he bettered their forest by providing evident trails, stairs, and some benches. He invented a wooden machine for mass production of bricks. Using the bricks he produced, Rizal built a water dam for the community with the help of his students.
As the town’s doctor, Rizal equally treated all patients regardless of their economic and social status. He accepted as ‘fees’ things like poultry and crops, and at times, even gave his services to poor folks for free. His specialization was ophthalmology but he also offered treatments to almost all kinds of diseases like fever, sprain, broken bones, typhoid, and hernia.
Rizal also helped in the livelihood of the abaca farmers in Dapitan by trading their crops in Manila. He also gave them lessons in abaca-weaving to produce hammocks. Noticing that the fishing method by the locals was inefficient, he taught them better techniques like weaving and using better fishing nets.
As a scientist and philologist
Aside from doing archaeological excavations, Rizal inspected Dapitan’s rich flora and fauna, providing a sort of taxonomy to numerous kinds of forest and sea creatures. From his laboratory and herbarium, he sent various biological specimens to scientists in Europe like his dear friend Doctor Adolph B. Meyer in Dresden. In return, the European scholars sent him books and other academic reading materials.
From the collections he sent to European scholars, at least three species were named after him: a Dapitan frog (‘Rhacophorus rizali’), a type of beetle (‘Apogonia rizali’), and a flying dragon (Draco rizali).
Having learned the Visayan language, he also engaged himself in the study of language, culture, and literature. He examined local folklores, customs, Tagalog grammar, and the Malay language. His intellectual products about these subjects, he related to some European academicians like Doctor Reinhold Rost, his close philologist friend in London ... (continue reading)

Goodbye Dapitan

In 1895, Blumentritt informed Rizal that the revolution-ridden Cuba, another nation colonized by Spain, was raged by yellow fever epidemic. Because there was a shortage of physicians to attend to war victims and disease-stricken people, Rizal in December 1895 wrote to the then Governor General Ramon Blanco, volunteering to provide medical services in Cuba. Receiving no reply from Blanco, Rizal lost interest in his request.
But on July 30, 1896, Rizal received a letter from the governor general sanctioning his petition to serve as volunteer physician in Cuba. Rizal made immediate preparations to leave, selling and giving as souvenirs to friends and students his various properties.
In the late afternoon of July 31, Rizal got on the ‘España’ with Josephine Bracken (his common-law wife), Narcisa, a niece, three nephews, and three of his students. (Related: Jose Rizal wife)
Many Dapitan folks, especially Rizal’s students, came to see their beloved doctor for the last time. Cordially bidding him goodbye, they shouted “Adios, Dr. Rizal!” and some of his students even cried. With sorrowing heart, He waved his hand in farewell to the generous and loving Dapitan folks, saying, “Adios, Dapitan!”
The steamer departed for Manila at midnight of July 31, 1896. With tears in his eyes, Rizal later wrote in his diary onboard the ship, “I have been in that district four years, thirteen days, and a few hours.” (© 2013 to present by Jensen DG. Mañebog)
Jensen DG. Mañebog, the contributor, is a book author and professorial lecturer in the graduate school of a state university in Metro Manila. His unique book on Rizal comprehensively tackles, among others, the respective life of Rizal’s parents, siblings, co-heroes, and girlfriends. (e-mail:
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TAGS: Jose Rizal, Dapitan, Exile, Deportation, History, Philippine Studies, Filipino Heroes; Jose Rizal's Bitter Sweet Life in Dapitan


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