Jose Rizal started writing the first part of Noli Me Tangere in 1884 in Madrid when he was still studying medicine. After his studies, he went to Paris and there continued writing the novel. And it was in Berlin that Rizal finished the last part.
It’s been said that Rizal was inspired to write the Noli after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which deals with the story of black slaves and their white slavemasters. In her novel was a description of all sorts of hardships and abuses that whites committed onto blacks. Rizal saw in it parallels to the experiences of Filipinos under the Spaniards.
Initially, he planned to have each part of the novel be written by different countrymen familiar with Philippine society and then compile those parts into a novel. But that plan did not come to fruition, so he ended up writing it without any help.
Rizal explained to his friend Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt the reasons for writing the Noli. All of these reasons can be clearly seen in the novel’s chapters.
The title Noli Me Tangere is Latin for “Touch Me Not,” which is taken from the Gospel of John in the Bible. It is Jesus’ response to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb after his resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
For a summary in English of Noli Me Tangere, click here.
Characters in Noli Me Tangere
Crisostomo Ibarra: a young man studying in Europe
Elias: helped Ibarra learn about his country and its problems
Kapitan Tiyago: merchant who’s the father figure to Maria Clara
Padre Damaso: a Franciscan priest who was transferred to a different parish after serving in San Diego for a long time
Padre Salvi: the parish priest who replaced Padre Damaso
Maria Clara: Ibarra’s love; maiden of San Diego who turned out to be the daughter of Doña Pia Alba fathered by Padre Damaso
Pilosopo Tasyo: Old philosopher who advices the learned citizens of San Diego
Sisa: a devoted mother whose only sin was having a bad husband
Basilio & Crispin: the two sons of Sisa; they work the bells of San Diego’s church
Alperes: the priest’s rival in wielding power in San Diego
Donya Victorina: a woman trying to pass herself off as half-Spanish with makeup and speaking broken Castellano
Donya Consolacion: wife of the alferez; worked as a laundrywoman with a vulgar mouth and behavior
Don Tiburcio de Espadana: a crippled Spaniard who ended up in the Philippines in search of fortune; married Donya Victorina
Linares: distant nephew of Don Tiburcio and cousin of Padre Damaso’s godchild; chosen to be Maria Clara’s husband
Don Filipo: teniente mayor who likes reading Latin; father of Sinang
To be continued…
Now we come to Padre Damaso Verdolagas, who is often said to be the “villain” of the “Noli.” Is he? Really? All right, he was rude to Ibarra. He ordered the corpse of Ibarra’s father taken out of the Christian cemetery and transferred to the Chinese cemetery. He turns out to be the father of Maria Clara. Open Wikifilipinas, which trumpets itself as the one-stop site for everything Philippine, and you will find this:
“According to Jose Rizal’s description, Padre Damaso is a Franciscan friar that acts as the curate or the official minister of the book’s fictional town, San Diego. He was described as a fat, ugly priest with an extremely large belly. He was known to be lazy, selfish, proud, cruel, judgmental, malicious-minded and has cravings for beautiful women.
“Padre Damaso was the self-righteous curate of the fictional San Diego church and town. He used his power to get what he desired. He was notorious and deceitful. His unhealthy physical appearance signified his laziness and excesses to everything that he wanted. It was he who raped Pia Alba, the wife of Don Santiago de los Santos, a local businessman.
“This made him the biological father of the conservative and pretty Maria Clara. His dirty secret was revealed. Due to this scandal, he was forcefully transferred to a different town. He was found dead during this transition without explanations.”
Such loaded anti-clerical language in a website was used by students for their research. Where did we get the idea that Pia Alba was raped? Remember, Kapitan Tiago was an opium dealer and probably had no time for his wife who found solace in her spiritual adviser. Was Damaso really evil? Or was he just being an over-protective father who didn’t approve of his daughter’s boyfriend? [Let's ask You-Know-Who!]
In the opening chapters of the “Noli,” Rizal described Padre Damaso as “a Franciscan, talks much and gesticulates more. In spite of the fact that his hair is beginning to turn gray, he seems to be preserving well his robust constitution, while his regular features, his rather disquieting glance, his wide jaws and herculean frame give him the appearance of a Roman noble in disguise and make us involuntarily recall one of those three monks of whom Heine tells in his ‘Gods in Exile,’ who at the September equinox in the Tyrol used to cross a lake at midnight and each time places in the hand of the poor boatman a silver piece, cold as ice, which left him full of terror.
“But Fray Damaso is not so mysterious as they were. He is full of merriment, and if the tone of his voice is rough like that of a man who has never had occasion to correct himself and who believes that whatever he says is holy and above improvement, still his frank, merry laugh wipes out this disagreeable impression and even obliges us to pardon his showing to the room bare feet and hairy legs that would make the fortune of a Mendieta in the Quiapo fairs.” (Derbyshire translation)
Rizal is almost fond of Damaso. Read the novel to see the real villain: the evil friar is not Damaso but his replacement Father Salvi who lusts after Maria Clara and engineers an accident that would have killed Ibarra during the laying of the cornerstone of his school. Failing in that, he instigates a rebellion and implicates Ibarra. The fat, sex-starved, corrupt friar is not Rizal’s Fray Damaso, but Graciano Lopez Jaena’s “Fray Botod.”
One can argue that the characters of Rizal’s novels have taken on a life of their own in our consciousness. Well, it’s a pity that we have a national hero who wrote a lot for a nation that does not read. [And that includes an attention-hungry tour guide who claims to know much about history and his Ravenous Harlots. Talk about being rational and being heroes, eh?]