If one is to read Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in the original Spanish, he would be surprised how the country’s foremost national hero described the infamous Padre Dámaso:
Sin embargo de que sus cabellos empezaban á encanecer, parecía conservarse bien su robusta naturaleza. Sus correctas facciones, su mirada poco tranquilizadora, sus anchas quijadas y hercúleas formas le daban el aspecto de un patricio romano disfrazado, y, sin quererlo, os acordaréis de uno de aquellos tres monjes de que habla Heine en sus Dioses en el destierro…
(My translation: “But while his hair was beginning to gray, his robust nature seemed to be well preserved. His correct features, his quite reassuring look, his wide jaws and herculean forms, gave him the appearance of a Roman patrician in disguise, and, unwittingly, you will remember one of those three monks that Heine speaks of in his ‘Gods in Exile’…”)
So where did popular culture get the idea that the poor Franciscan was a balding, bloated, pot-bellied friar?
Many history buffs agree that today’s visual image of Padre Dámaso was culled from an (insane) story written by an eighteen-year-old Ilongo by the name of Graciano López Jaena who, early in his career as an aspiring político in Madrid, once declared that he was a Spaniard more than a Filipino (no wonder he was wont to prominently feature his mother’s last name; the Spanish way of writing one’s full name is to end it always with the maternal surname).
López Jaena, whose birth anniversary is commemorated today (birthdate: 18 December 1856) in his hometown of Jaro, Iloílo and elsewhere where he is still highly esteemed, wrote a story titled “Fray Botod” which in his native Hiligaynón literally means a big-bellied friar. This is how he described his story’s “protagonist”:
Baja estatura; cara abogatada en forma de disco cual luna llena. Pómulos atomatados. Gruesos labios y pronunciados; ojos chiquititos, picarescos y gatunos; nariz grande, abermellado,* de alas anchas y desplegadas, por eso olfatea á distancia como un perdiguero. Cabello amaizado, corona tabo** con cerquillo. Frente deprimida y arrugada marcanda ceño sombrío y adusto. Abdomen; sobre todo, su abdomen llama la atención por su mostruoso desarrollo, es más promontorio que abdomen, porque termina en punta cerca ombligo; la región pelviana y la pectoral coinciden en el mismo plano perpendicular determinado una curvatura central de la columna vertebral. Añádase á todo esto, un cuello corto sobre donde descansa aquella original fisonomía y tenéis acabado el retrato de cuerpo entero.
(My translation: “Of short stature with a flattened, disc-shaped face like that of a full moon. Stuck cheekbones. Thick and pronounced lips. Tiny eyes, picaresque and feline. Large nose, reddish,* with wide and unfolded wings: that is why from a distance he sniffs like a gun dog. Rich hair whose tabo-shaped** crown has bangs. Depressed and wrinkled forehead marks a gloomy and grim frown. And the abdomen —his abdomen, above all— attracts attention because of its showy development, it is more promontory than the rest because it ends at a point near the navel. The pelvic and pectoral region coincide in the same perpendicular plane with a central curvature of the spine. Add to all this is a short neck on which that original physiognomy rests, and you will have his full-length portrait.”)
*Abermellado is not even Spanish. It is Galician, a language spoken in northwestern Spain. It is a mystery as to how López Jaena got hold of that word. Perhaps at an early age he was already a Hispanophile?
**Tabo is a filipinismo, meaning that it is a Filipino word that has been incorporated into the Spanish language. A tabo pertains to the ubiquitous water dipper.
Take note, he was only eighteen when he wrote this hilarious caricature of a Spanish friar. He was virtually a kid. And his Spanish, although rich in imagery, cannot even be considered literary gold.
One wonders as to how López Jaena was influenced by anticlericalism at such young an age (he joined Freemasonry at a much later time in his life, when he was already 26), but it can be gleaned that opposition to religious authority was already in ferment during his youth. Many (Hispanophobic!) historians will readily point out that this belligerent attitude toward the “repressive” Spanish friars was the starting point of his heroism. Debatable, of course.
Now going back to his political plans… what do you make of this declaration of his to Rizal, in a letter dated 15 October 1891?
Ciertamente, si quiero ser diputado en España, es para satisfacer ambiciones personales, nada más; no tengo la pretensión de dar por mi investidura de diputado, derechos ni libertades á Filípínas, ella tíene que conquístarlos con su sangre, lo mismo que su independencia.
(My translation: “Certainly, if I want to become a deputy in Spain, it is to satisfy personal ambitions, nothing more. For my investiture as deputy, I do not intend to give rights or liberties to Filipinas. She has to conquer them with her blood, as well as her independence.”)
His colleagues, most prominently José Alejandrino among them, described his lifestyle in Spain as rather Bohemian: he was a strange fellow who loved to give impromptu speeches just for the heck of it (many of the things he said were just figments of his fertile imagination), who would rather spend more time in cafés just to while away time rather than write articles with his fellow propagandistas (they literally had to bribe him with spending money just to write). He, too, was perhaps the original “dugyót” (which means a slovenly person) as he rarely took a bath, who preferred eating sardines with his bare hands, then wiping his oily fingers on his seldomly washed clothes.
Curiously enough, Jaena rhymes with the English word hyena which is a carnivore known for its filthy and mangy behavior as a scavenger. Just a thought. 😂
There’s your hero, the one and only Graciano López Hyena! So aside from greeting him a happy birthday today, you might as well thank him too for fighting for your liberty.***