Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Did Dr. José Rizal Ever Use a Cuss Word in any of his Works?

Basic Question  Did Dr. José Rizal ever use a cuss word in his letters and works?

Quick answer:  Yes, he surely did.

Well, he actually used the word:  Damn it!  However it was not in Tagalog. Certainly not in Spanish, nor French, but in German.  It was  Donnerwetter!!! Damned!

Did we find this in any of his letters?  No, not in any of his letters, but in a comic strip he created for Pastor Karl Ullmer’s young son, Fritz.

In the summer of 1886, in Wilhelmsfeld, Germany, in a lovely quiet village, about thirteen kilometers from Heidelberg through a walk across the Odenwald forest, Rizal became the guest lodger at the vicarage of a protestant pastor Karl Ullmer and his wife and children: Etta and Fritz.

Fritz, the boy, was a curious lad who often must have gotten into Rizal’s private space. How did we know this? Pastor Karl Ullmer’s great grandsons, Fritz and Hans Hack said their grandfather, Fritz, told them Rizal had a large Philippine map tacked on to his bedroom wall and that this map attracted his interest so much that he studied it several times (maybe he would sneak into Rizal’s room when Rizal was out in Heidelberg doing his opthalmology practice and attending lectures at the University). Sometimes finding Rizal writing on his desk, Fritz would usually drag him out to gather strawberries, hunt for wild blueberries, or pick woodruff flowers (a twining lily flower that grows in circles around its stem). The Ullmers made Rizal enjoy quiet contentment that he wrote to family and friends how happy he was in Wilhelmsfeld.

Rizal at that time was also busy finishing the last chapters of his novel Noli me Tángere. So, perhaps to occupy Fritz's time, he created a six-frame comic strip of young Fritz and his friend. The boys are shown concocting naughty plots and reaping the natural consequences of their boyish pranks.

Picture yourself as young Fritz Ullmer. You’re an overactive thirteen-going-on-fourteen year old, not yet a grown up but trying to behave like one in a minute and reverting to being a child in the next. That’s the developmental condition of a newly-minted teen. Rizal knew this prototype real well. He had many years of practice with his nephews and nieces by Saturnina, Narcisa, Lucia, Maria, and Olympia. Rizal drew accompanying pictures of his Tagalog translations of the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales for his young relatives. He knew comics was always a great hit.

Rizal drew a comic page exclusively about Fritz, for Fritz. If you were lucky to be the subject of a comic strip before, you would have been as thrilled to death as Fritz was.

Rizal had one of the boys utter a mild curse! This answers my question at the top of this page blog. However, you won’t find this “factoid” if you simply rely on the Rizaliana documents. You see, Big Brother had edited out the cuss word so that we (plebeians)  won’t ever get to see this offending word. The historical gate-keepers want to forever perpetuate the image of a clean national hero in the spirit of high hagiography.  

I, too, am enamored of this charming comics. The same is true for my Rizalista  friends, the Knights of Rizal members from Germany, Sir Rainer J. Weber, and from Belgium, Sir Lucien Spittael. I believe this cartoon is also Dr. Ambeth Ocampo’s favorite otherwise he wouldn’t have selected this particular image as the cover to his latest edition of  Calendar of Rizaliana, UST press, 2011.
Rizal's comic frame of R. Pfeiffer and Fritz Ullmer on Ocampo's book cover

However, my two KOR gentlemen friends alerted me to several mistakes in the German text and in the English translations. It appears to me however, that the Rizal Centennial Commission may somehow have altered Rizal’s true intentions by editing out his actual words. Do I have any valid basis for this statement? Perhaps. I'm not sure. However, in a conversation lately with Ambeth Ocampo at the last Filipino Book Festival held in San Francisco, Oct 1st and 2nd 2011, he informed me that in publishing Rizal’s Epistolarios, (Maximo??? Teodoro???) Kalaw suppressed several documents (letters from a Rizal girl friend deemed perhaps damaging to the national heroes' clean image).
 Now, let’s peruse Rizal's (un-expurgated) comic strip. Each frame is action-packed —a   sure boys’ winner! And it came in attractive water colors, too.

The original  strip is colored.
The two boys plot some naughty undertakings.
They march off to Heiligkreuzsteinach (HolyCrossSteinach). They steal apples.They throw them in the water. Rizal depicts the boys horsing around. Fritz warns his friend to be careful lest he falls into the water. Sure enough, R. Pfeiffer falls in. He utters a cuss word-- “Damn it! That’s a cold bath."  He calls out for help while Fritz laughs hard at his friend's misfortune. He fishes him out. On dry land Pfeiffer shivers, "Brrr, brrr"  and blurts out, "The water is wet!”
Rainer J. Weber, and Lucien Spittael noted the “whitewash" (my choice of word, not theirs) in the English translations. Rizal's title: “The Baptism of R. Pfeiffer at Holy✝Steinach” was translated as “The Baptism of the Two Brothers.” That’s incorrect, they both declare. They weren’t brothers, they were buddies. To wit: one lived in Wilhelmsfeld, the other in Heiligkreuzsteinach, down over the next valley. Only one of them got his baptism in the Steinach, a little local stream. And it wasn’t Fritz. “Damn it!” was translated as “In heaven’s name!” That’s  putting it rather mildly. Rizal, in his sense of political correctness, made the naughty prankster, R. Pfeiffer, utter the cuss words—not Fritz, the pastor’s son.

Rizal did not say “picked” apples; he used the word “pinched,” stippitzten.  Pinched has that subtle connotation of having been sort of “stolen", a prank hatched by the boys (Lucien says, not stolen, but picked. or plucked. I say, picked without asking for permission).  Rizal’s choice of word is so delicately precise it lost something in their English translation.

Let me share with you the communication between my two Rizalista friends:

Sir Lucien to Sir Rainer: Nov. 2, 2011.
"The text on the comic: "The baptism of the two brothers" is… not correct. In German it says: "Die Taufe des R. Pfeiffer zu Heilig†steinach". The translation is "The baptism of R. Pfeiffer from Heilig†steinach"
While I was in Heidelberg I've done some research in Wilhelmsfeld and Steinach for the name R. Pfeiffer". No such name was to be found in the archives. We do not know where he got this name.
Rizal wrote Heilig†steinach. Rizal just made an abbreviation. Rizal wrote that he went to a neighboring village with the name "Heiligkreuzsteinach". He just replaces kreuz (cross) with the cross sign."

Sometime in July 2011 Lucien copied Rizal’s original German caption and with his own translation sent it to Ranier for feedback.

(For comparison, I add the translation of the Philippine version in parenthesis below. taken from Ocampo's Calendar of Rizalina.)

1.Wie sie schlimme Streiche beschließen.
How they are plotting naughty tricks. (How they solved a bad quarrel.)

2. Wie sie fröhlich Apfel  “stibitzen“ um sie ins Wasser zu werfen.
How they happily ???? apples to throw them in the water. (How happy they picked apples to throw in the water.)

3.Achtung! Sagte Fritz. Du kannst ins Wasser fallen!
Attention! Said Fritz. You can fall in the water! ("Attention!" said Fritz. You can fall into the water.)

 Ha! Ha! (Ha! Ha!)

5.Donnerwetter! Das war ein kaltes Bad! Hilf! Hilf!  
Damn it! That was a cold bath! Help! Help! (In heaven's name! That was a cold bath. Help! Help!)

6.Hu! Hu! Ist das Wasser naß.  
 Hu!Hu! The water is wet. (Ha! Ha! How wet is the water.)

Rainer to Lucien: Nov. 9, 2011. 
Rainer explained that Rizal used the old style of spelling--the old orthography letter types--- no longer used in contemporary times. This may have contributed to the mis-translations. He presents his own transcription of the hard to decipher German spellings and wrote the faithful English translations. Rainer, an experienced English and Political Science teacher (ret.) confirms the corrected comic text with authority.

"This is now correct."
1.Wie sie schlimme Streiche beschließen.
How they are plotting naughty tricks.

2. Wie sie fröhlich Apfel "stippitzten" (not "stibitzen") um sie ins Wasser zu werfen.
 How they happily pinched apples to throw them in the water.

3.Achtung! Sagte Fritz. Du kannst ins Wasser fallen!
Attention! said Fritz. You can fall in the water!

 Ouch! Ouch!

5.Donnerwetter! Das war ein kaltes Bad! Hilf! Hilf!
Damned/Blimey!!!* That was a cold bath! Help! Help!

 (*Blimey is a British mild curse.)

6.Hu! Hu! Ist das Wasser naß.
Brrr! Brrr! The water is wet.

This last frame is Rizal's punch line. To a native speaker, this must have been very funny. The synonym of "comics" is "funnies." By necessity, it must have a funny punchline. Rizal knew how to apply the formula.The joke he made was on the use of semantics, a very clever play on words. Here Rizal raises the joke to a higher intellectual level. Of course, the water is wet. It's a given, Silly.That funny line within the context of the German language is totally lost in the given English translation.

In Tagalog, it's a real strong punchline Basâ pala ang tubig. Yeah, yeah! what did you think... that the water is dry? How stupid can you get!

Within the Philippine cultural milieu, the last frame shows Fritz wringing water off R. Pfeiffer's drenched jacket, Fiipino-style, like "pinigâ". In the Philippines, in emergencies like this, one simply wrings out wet clothes and puts them on. The hot sunny weather automatically and almost immediately dries the clothes on one's back. Rizal had the last laugh by sketching Fritz like the ubiquitous Filipina washerwoman (lavandera). Now we know Rizal was really enjoying himself. Fritz thought he was laughing at his friend's expense, meanwhile Rizal was having a little fun at Fritz's expense!

Since my German is totally kaputt I could not join in on Sir Rainer's and Sir Lucien's discourse. However,what I miss in dialogue participation, I compensate in art contribution. I looked closely at the 1960 picture of Fritz and Hans Hack (Fritz Ullmer’s grandsons) taken in Manila (a year before the Rizal Centennial celebration) to personally present as a gift to the Philippine people the whole Ullmer-Rizaliana collection. When I superimposed Rizal’s Fritz Ullmer’s cartoon image, on Hans’ profile, an uncanny Ullmer three-generations-apart-profile came alive!

 Rizal had painted Fritz Ullmer as if Hans Hack-Ullmer had posed as his original model in 1886!!! I love it.
Fritz Ullmer's profile, right, 1886

  Mauro Mendez, Fritz Hack, age 23,  Hans Hack, 22, right, 1960.
(From Dr. Paz P. Mendez. Adventures in Rizaliana, NHI: Manila, 1978. p 33.) 
Isn't that something?  Blimey!!! See for yourself... same high forehead, same hair line, same strong jawline, same chin, same sharp profile, same attitude (now be honest, Sir Hans, were you ever guilty of the same pranks?) Donnerwetter!!!  Rizal was so damned good! We had been blind to miss this!

And finally, to Rizalistas everywhere, please take note:  --  Rainer, Lucien, and I tried to present through this blog the correct German captions and correct English translations of the Rizal Comics entitled "The Baptism of R. Pfeiffer at Heiligkreuzsteinach." 

Donnerwetter!!! ... a dammed good achievement! 

To Dr. Sir Fritz Hack (MD) and Dr. Sir Hans Hack (JD), descendants of the original Frtiz Ullmer character of the comics: Danke schön for donating your precious original Rizal comics to the Philippine Government.