Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jose Rizal And The Malay World

Pride of the Malay Race?

The Philippine revolution, the first of its kind in Asia, opened the floodgates of liberation against Western imperialism. More than physical bondage, it aimed to break the chains of mental captivity. In Rizal's words: "We must win freedom by deserving it, by improving the mind and enhancing the dignity of the individual, loving what is just, good and great, to the point of dying for it. When a people reach these heights . . . the idols and tyrants fall like a house of cards and freedom shines in the first dawn." -Anwar Ibrahim

Rizal- The foremost Malay?


In the 1990's, while working as violinist with a Filipino String quartet playing in  a plush hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I was approached by a guest,  a student from the University of Malaya. When she found out we were Filipinos, she asked me striking questions, perhaps the most difficult ever asked to me in Malaysia. "Who is Jose Rizal and why do you call him pride of the Malay race yet not all Malays knows him here?"

Rizal's Roots

Lakandula-an artist concept
Oddly enough, Rizal's ancestry is a mixture of races. One of his ancestors, on the side of his father was a Chinese immigrant from Fujian province. Rizal's mother was said  to be a descendant of the pre hispanic Tagalog/Malay nobility of Manila-Lakandula. Other Rizal biographers  even mentioned Spanish ancestry.

Spaniards labeled the native inhabitants of the Philippines as "Indio" belonging to the race "Malayo"(Malays). Most viewed the "Indio" as primitive and indolent. Some Spaniards even went on saying; the native inhabitants were no different from the "Dayaks" of Borneo, (which they termed as savages).

In his last hours before execution, Rizal was made to sign the notification of sentence as required by law. When the document was shown to him, he wanted a correction. He claimed that he was incorrectly described as a Chinese mestizo and wanted it change to "Indio Puro."

An Illustration of Malay men

Defining "Malay" - A Challenge

The challenge starts from what I define as  over simplification by some 19th Century western scholars in defining the race of brown skin people living in the Malay peninsula and in the east Indies and Ocenia. (including the Philippine acrhipelago and Taiwan) and whose culture, language, and physical attributes are somehow related. Yet despite all the similarities there are innate differences among the so called Malays which one could not ignore. 

The term "Malay race" was used in the late 19th century and early 20th century to describe the Austronesian People Contemporary anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguists believes that the ancestors of the Austronesian people of the Sunda Islands, Madagascar and Polynesia had originally migrated south from the Philippines during the prehistoric period from their origin in Taiwan.


Johann Friedrich Blumenbach(1752–1840)- A German Scientist, introduced the concept of a Malay race and classified the Malays as the brown race in his theory of five races. But many anthropologists have since rejected this theory, citing the "enormous complexity of classifying races". 

The idea;  "Malay race" is entirely different to the thinking and self definition of the so called "Ethnic Malays", the native population of  the Malay Peninsula and most parts of Indonesia.

In the Philippines we use the term "Malay"  to refer to the indigenous population of the country as well as the indigenous population of neighboring countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei. This misconception is due in part to American anthropologists Henry Otley Beyer who proposed that the Filipinos were actually Malays who migrated from Malaysia and Indonesia, arriving in the country in waves of migration. This idea was for a long time accepted by Filipino historians.

The often simplified yet problematic classification of races in the 19th Century.

A Scholar-Malay Study

Jose Rizal was one of the leading Filipino scholar on Malay Studies in the 19th Century. He made acquaintances with some of the imminent men of science in Europe  to broaden his knowledge about  the Philippines and the Malay World.  Names worth mentioning are  Rudolf Virchow, and Feodor Jagor. His letters to his Austrian friend  Ferdinand Blumentritt,  are gems itself for Malay studies, for it is filled with Rizal's readings, ideas and observations on the subject. 

Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)- Born in Leitmeritz , the present day Litomerice in the Czceh Republic, he published a number of studies on Philippine history, culture and languages.  Blumentritt was  Geography and History teacher in the local  "Gymnasium"(equivalent to High School) when Rizal befriended him trough correspondence. 

Fedor Jagor  (1816-1900) German scientist and ethnographer. Author of the 19th Century book "Reisen in den Philippinen"  (Travels in the Philippines). The said book left a lasting impression on Rizal. Through the introduction of Blumentritt, Rizal was able to meet Jagor in Europe who in turn introduced Rizal to various scientific societies.

Rudolf Virchow  (1821-1902) German doctor who did outstanding studies in different  fields of science and medicine, he was also a member of the German parliament, Der Reichstag (1880-1893).  Virchow was the leading figure in the field of Anthropology in the latter half of the 19th Century in Germany. He founded the "Beliner Gessellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie,und Uhrgescichte . (Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory). He also did studies on various craniums of races including those from the Philippines. Rizal met Virchow when Feodor Jagor  invited Rizal to a dinner/meeting with the Geographic Society. 

Southeast Asia under Colonialism

For centuries, much of South East Asia were under the yoke of western imperialism.  From the mid 15th century,  the region became a wealth base for European colonizers, with big earnings coming from the spice trade.  It's proximity to China and India also added to its attractiveness.

The map "Insulae Moluccae Celeberrimae"1598 drawn by Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) showing the Philippines, the Malay Peninsula, and the East Indies (Indonesia) with emphasis on the island group below Mindanao called "Moluccas" the fabled "Spice Island, forever associated with the voyage of Magellan. He was looking for a west route to find the "Moluccas"...but instead was blown a bit north and reached the Philippines. Notice the outright "mercantilism", that style and approach of the cartographer to the map as one sees below illustrations of nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon etc. Spices ..the priced commodity that time.
Southeast Asia during the time of Rizal

16th Century Illustration of the Spice station in Batavia now Jakarta, Indonesia (Dutch East Indies). The colony was  a  source for cheap labor and manpower,  

A familiar scene in Dutch East Indies. Native Malays serving the colonial master.

White man's burden? British colonial official in Malaya.

Early 1900's photo of a Javanese worker in a coffee and rubber plantation.

In the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), native military units were organized to defend the colony from it's perceived enemies, but often they were used to suppress other ethnic groups showing resistance to the colonial power....divide and rule.

"Guardia Civil " made up of  native units. Seen here with their captured "Katipunero" during the early days of the 1896 Philippine Revolution.

Agents of Colonialism

The European powers in Southeast Asia conceptualized an effective system to use in the colony in producing wealth for the mother country. The colonial government granted rights to groups and companies to oversee the economic viability of the conquered lands.

The Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische CompagnieVOC, "United East India Company") was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States -General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It was the second multinational corporation in the world (the British East India Company was founded two years earlier) and the first company to issue stocks. It was also arguably the first mega corporation, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies.

Flag of the British East India Company

Parts of Malaya were either administered or leased by the British East India CompanyUnder British rule, Malaya became one of the most profitable territories of the Empire, being the world's largest producer of tin and later rubber.

Flag of  British North Borneo Company
North Borneo (Sabah) was leased to the British North Borneo Company by the owner, the Sultanate of Sulu. Jose Rizal himself planed to bring the displaced farmers of Calamba to Sandakan, North Borneo.

The Philippines in the early centuries of the Spanish colonization did not developed an economy similar to the other Malay countries in Southeast Asia. There were no first grade spices to develop an agriculture/export base economy. The country heavily relied on the income the Manila Galleon trade brought. The result was much of the country's arable lands were neglected and left undeveloped. It fell to the control of few estate owners. The Catholic Church with its primacy over the colonial society became one of the biggest land holding sector of the country. This was the Philippines that Rizal knew, a country under  the "Frailocracy."

Late 19th Century photo of Friars belonging to the Agustinian order

Rizal in Europe

Education in Europe did not only bring "enlightenment" and new knowledge to young Filipinos like Rizal, it also gave them a chance to see freedom and new opportunities not present in the colony. They asked; "If this rights are allowed in the mother country why not in the colony?" Young Filipinos who had acquired higher education either in the Philippines or in Europe were collectively known as "Ilustrados" (enlightened).

Rizal with some of the "Ilustrados" in Madrid

Noli Me Tangere
Besides playing a defining role in Filipino groups in Spain, (like contributing articles for the organ of the Propaganda movement "La Solidaridad") Rizal labored alone writing a novel to expose the ills of the colonial government. In 1887  "Noli Me Tangere" was published in Berlin. The "Noli" is a literary opus that criticizes the colonial society under the dysfunctional power of the Spanish regime and the friars.

Multatuli's Max Havelaar

Max Havelaar
Max Havelaar- The work by Multatuli (pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker) written as a form of protest against the colonial policies of the Dutch government in the East Indies.  The book is said to have raised the awareness of Europeans (Dutch) that the wealth  they enjoyed was the result of suffering in other parts of the worldIn a letter to Blumentritt dated 6. December 1888 Rizal mentioned that he finds Multatuli's book "extra ordinarily interesting" and went on to say that  perhaps it is "much superior than the Noli Me Tangere". But he also added that the author's commentaries were not as violent as his in the "Noli". 

Eduard Douwes Dekker  aka Multatuli (1820-1887) Dutch author and colonial official in the East Indies. He was born in Amsterdam and worked in the colonial administration. Dekker was posted first in Java and was later transferred to the Moluccas were he witnessed the disturbing abuses of the colonial system.

Enter Paris 1889...."Redemption of the Malays"

Jose Rizal was living in Paris when the great Paris Exposition was held. In one of the many shows featured in the events, Rizal and some Filipino friends saw  Buffalo Bill's troupe. He had been impressed by the pride of the Indians,  their dignified look with their costumes, war paints and the feather head gears. This inspired him to organize a club that would emulate that Indian pride (as Filipinos were also called Indios by the Spaniards). He founded the group "Indios Bravos" or brave Indians.

Buffalo Bill posing with some of  the Indians in his troupe.

Indios Bravos was heavily imbued with masonic methods. Rizal's British biographer Austin Coates wrote;  "Dedicated to the idea of courage, its ostensible aims were to keep the Filipino colony united and encourage manly sports. Within it however, was a secret inner group which beneath the concealment of the code letters Rd L.M.  (Redención de los Malayos), was pledged to the liberation of the Malay peoples from colonial rule, a pledge to be made good first in the Philippines, later to be extended to the inhabitants of Borneo, Indonesia and Malaya."

Rizal in his quest for reforms for the colony would go on spearhead writings whose aims were not only meant to expose the mistakes of the colonial power but also to criticize the conquered people themselves. 

El Filibusterismo
He and his family would be prosecuted by the government under the guidance and pressure of the friars. In the Calamba land row, the Rizal-Mercado family together with some leading families of the town were ejected from their properties and from the lands they were renting from the friar companies. It was in such circumstances that Rizal's second novel was born- "El Filibusterismo"

Borneo Colonization Plan

In April 1892 Jose Rizal, then living in Hong Kong,  visited Sandakan,  to confer with British colonial officials regarding his plans of establishing a Filipino colony made up of families ejected from Calamba. Rizal received favorable reply from the officials of the British North Borneo Company. At that time Sandakan was like an isolated village and in need of a rice growing community to meet the demands of the area. He was surprised that he was offered by the British officials, the maximum of 5,000 acres free of rent for three years.

The Borneo colonization plan did not prosper, some members of the Rizal family  did not agree with it. When the new Spanish Governor General received a letter from Rizal asking permission to allow the landless farmers of Calamba to establish themselves in Borneo, he immediately sent  notification of disapproval to Rizal, saying that "the Philippines lacked laborers and it was unpatriotic to go off and cultivate a foreign soil"

Location Map Sandakan Sabah, North Borneo

Shooting the foremost Malay

In 1892 Jose Rizal returned to the Philippines and founded the "La Liga Filipina". Among its members were names that would play prominent roles in the revolution of 1896. Days later,  Rizal would be arrested and then exiled to Dapitan. Some elements of the La Liga saw the arrest of Rizal as the end in the belief for a moderate path towards change. Katipunan with Andres Bonifacio came into being.

Rizal established a school for boys in his property in Dapitan. He took in both Christian and Muslim students . Religious distinction was secondary. Education was the premium. The importance of working and studying as one group was stressed.

In August 1896, the Katipunan led revolution broke, Rizal on the way to Cuba as a volunteer for the Spanish Army Medical Corps was arrested and sent back to Manila. In the last days of December 1896,  he was sentenced to die by musketry. Accused by the Spaniards as "the living inspiration and of the revolution". In the morning of 30. December 1896,  Rizal met his end at Luneta, Bagumbayan. 

December 30 1896. Rizal's execution

Rizal-Inspiring Patriot

A century after his execution in Luneta, Rizal continues to inspire Filipino and Malay intellectuals in this part of the world. In this time when the region seeks to explore with new vigor the meaning of Malay identity and Malay consciousness, Jose Rizal is  a relevant figure to read and emulate, perhaps even in understanding the common bond of the people of the Malay World. 

After his execution Rizal was called with many names in honor of his memory. Since the beginning he was referred to by many of his friends and peers as the "Great Malay." Rizal's biographers began using such term on him as this 1930 adds about his biography written by Carlos Quirino

                                  Rizal With Some Of The Region's Intellectuals

Pramoedya Anata Toer  (6 February 1925 – 30 April 2006) Indonesian author of novels, short stories, essays, polemic and histories of his homeland and its people. His works span the colonial period, Indonesia's struggle for independence, its occupation by Japan during the World war II as well as the post-colonial authoritarian regimes of Sukarno and Suharto, and are infused with personal and national history. I got his book 'House of Glass" in Subang Airport in KL in a flight to Zurich in 1999. At the beginning I found it strange that he mentioned Rizal  and other personalities involved in the Philippine revolution in this novel.  Reading about him, I found out that he was indeed influenced by Rizal's writings and the events of 1896 in the Philippines. He used the Philippine experience to compare the philosophy and ideas with that of the Indonesian struggle.

Wenceslao Quinito Vinzons (September 28, 1910 — July 15, 1942) was a Filipino politician and a leader of the armed resistance against the Japanese occupying forces during World War II. He was among the first Filipinos to organize guerrilla resistance against the Japanese. In July 1942 he and some members of his family was massacred by Japanese soldiers. Vinzons was born in the town of Indan, Camarines Norte  to Gabino Vinzons and Engracia Quinito. He graduated valedictorian from his local high school, and proceeded to Manila to study at the University of the PhilippinesWhile at the university, Vinzons gained fame as a student leader. He was also known for delivering an oratorical address entitled "Malaysia Irredenta", where he advocated the unification of Southeast Asian nations with a common Malay origin.The piece won him the Manuel L. Quezon gold medal for excellence. Vinzon's ideas were inspired by Rizal's dream of a Malayan unity.

Rosihan Anwar (May 10, 1922 – April 14, 2011)  Indonesian journalist and author. He was born in Kubang Nan Dua, West Sumatra. Rosihan received his early education at HIS and MULO in Padang. He continued his studies at the AMS in Yogyakarta and participated in journalism workshop at Columbia University, New York. His career began as a reporter in Asia Raya newspaper during Japanese Occupation. In 1947, he founded Siasat magazine. He was also the founder and editor of  Pedoman newspaper, which was twice forcibly closed by  the Sukarno regime (1961) and Suhartos New Order  administration (1974), because of its vocal criticism to the authoritarian regime. He  translated Jose Rizal's poem "Mi Ultimo Adios" in  Bahasa Indonesia, where it was recited by the soldiers of  the Indonesian independence movement before going to battle.

Syed Hussein Alatas (September 17, 1928 – January 23, 2007) was a Malaysian academician, sociologist, founder of social science organizations, and former politician. Syed Hussein wrote several books with subjects dealing with imperialism, multi -culturalism and history of colonial societies. He read Rizal's '"Indolence of the Filipinos"and wrote his comment and critic on it in his famous work- "The Myth of the Lazy Native."

Anwar Ibrahim  (born 10 August 1947)  - Malaysian Opposition Leader.  Former Deputy Prime Minister in the  UMNO  led government of  Dr. Mahatir Mohammad . While still   Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar organized an international conference on Jose Rizal in October 1995. He called Rizal an "Asian Renaissance Man " and "the greatest Malayan." Once considered as heir apparent to Mahatir, he had a falling out with the Prime Minister . He was sentenced for 6 years on corruption charges and  a misdemeanor crime of sodomy. All of which Anwar branded as political harassment. In June 2004 the charges was reversed and Anwar was released. In July 2008, he was arrested  again over allegations he sodomised one of his male aides, but was acquitted of the charge in January 2012. The identified leader of the "Reformasi" movement in Malaysia, Anwar believes that much of  Southeast Asia is inflicted by a social cancer that Rizal wrote; the cancer of corruption.

Anwar Ibrahim's Asiaweek article on Rizal 

Back to the question- Rizal pride of the Malay Race?

Is he the pride of the Malay race? I go back to that Malaysian student who asked the complicated question. After giving my answer and explaining my opinion, she left unconvinced. I invited  her to come back and watch the group again. When she returned, she had some friends with her also students. Unknown to her, after our first meeting,  I went around the leading KL bookshops hoping to find something about Rizal. I found Austin Coates' biography of Rizal (the last exemplar in the bookshop). In that second meeting, she was equally surprised when I gave her the book. I remember telling her; "My gift to you and Rizal is the pride of the Malay race because you can find his biography in a KL bookshop". I remember laughter. Instantly we became friends.


  1. Hi, that's a great article about Rizal. I did read few facts about him before this. He's such a genius man but there is only one thing that makes me feel unsatisfied. I did read somewhere that he choose the death sentence. He got another option. For me it's kind of better to take the other option & make the revolution in the same. So he could contribute more on his race & country.

    2) I think you are pretty fascinated about one malaysian guy. Don't judge a book by it's cover.Give a deep thinking on him. He claimed he was injected with arsenic & HIV in 1998 until made a big riot in KL. But till now on he could fly any where in wherever part of this planet. So I think those HIV patients should claim the cure from him. In order to know more about him (proven documents + pictures), go here use the google translate. Make a free mind (it's the hardest to accept the truth) & you could make your fair judgement.

    1. Thanks for reading the blog...with regards to the "option" you mentioned, I wrote an article about that topic (please read my blog "On The Trail of Rizal's Relation With The Katipunan")

      As with Anwar Ibrahim, I'm "fascinated"?...yes perhaps. I guess the best judgement would be to meet him personally and interview him. I am not only fascinated of him but also of Dr. Mahatir,UMNO, the Tunku Abdul Rahman, Bumiputras, Penang (where I worked 6 months), Lim Kit Siang, Peranakan, etc. etc. Malaysia and it's History interest me a lot. It has given me wonderful insights about our region, Southeast Asia. I'll check the link you gave me. Many thanks again!!

    2. Rizal choose to die to avoid more bloodshed that might be done by the spanish to the filipinos. But the situation is ironic it fueled the revolution.

  2. Malay is the great nation consist of various ethnic groups that inhabit the area of the south east asia south which also covered part of Indochina, Taiwan and Southern Island Japan. Then the arrival of colonials...Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and British who divided the areas according to political boundaries. As a result we Malay peoples trapped in the countries formed by them namely Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia and Taiwan. Malay race has lost identity by the large scale of migration from other races who also seek economic opportunities.This great history and civilization has been altered and destroyed by the colonialists. Malays must unite despite differences in religion.

  3. Interesting read... Most of the films depicting Rizal focus on what he has done for the Philippines. Very few of these films elaborate what he was to the world.

  4. Actually Rizal was quite famous among mine and older generations of indonesians (more famous than Marcos back then). We were taught about him at school. And Rizal or Yusrizal are very common name in Indonesia. I don't know whether it is authentic indonesian name or derived from him as admiration.