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  • What Kapitan Tiago Served and Padre Damaso Ate: Studies on Jose Rizal, His World, and His Works by Jose Victor Z. Torres
  • Janet Reguindin Estella
What Kapitan Tiago Served and Padre Damaso Ate: Studies on Jose Rizal, His World, and His Works
Quezon City: Bughaw, 2021. 86 pages.

Nearly seventy years after the passage of Republic Act No. 1425, better known as the Rizal Law, which requires the teaching of José Rizal’s life and works in tertiary schools, the course remains a challenging task for many teachers. With the changes found in the present era, particularly those in the expansion of modern technology and new learning environments, [End Page 289] reaffirming and sustaining the relevance of Rizal’s life and works to a younger generation present a hurdle not easily surpassed. This book is a response to this challenge of teaching the life and works of Rizal. As a history professor, public historian, and multi-awarded writer, author Jose Victor Z. Torres has effectively demonstrated the importance of historical context in the study and teaching of Rizal and his ideas.

Torres emphasizes one of the problems in teaching the Rizal course: “We have concentrated on teaching Rizal as a hero that there is one thing we have forgotten to let our students know about him—that he was a human being” (xv). To address this problem, the author provides a new and creative approach to teaching and learning about Rizal by discussing how nineteenth-century events shaped the hero’s ideas and writings. Torres suggests that in order to fully understand Rizal and his writings, it is necessary to “take him down from his pedestal and you will see a different person” (xvi), an approach that the author attributes to fellow public historian, Ambeth Ocampo, who motivated Torres to reexamine Rizal and his works.

The book consists of five essays, which analyze Rizal’s biography and the events in his society that influenced his works and ideas. In particular, the essay “Telegrafo, Electricidad, y Poste de Luz: Notes on the Teaching of Rizal and His World” discusses the technological changes in the nineteenth century that shaped Rizal as an individual and a scholar. The essay “What Kapitan Tiago Served and Padre Damaso Ate: Nineteenth-Century Philippine Cuisine” focuses on the history and culture of food during Rizal’s time as seen in his novel Noli me tángere (popularly referred to as the Noli). The third essay “Escandaloso, Horrendo, y Punible Delito . . . The Source of the ‘Mad Nun Episode’” is an analysis of the actual event in the nineteenth century that was the basis of a chapter in the Noli. Meanwhile, the essays “Annotating Colonial Histories: Jose Rizal and the Rethinking of the Filipino Identity in Nineteenth-Century England” and “A la Juventud de Filibusteros: A Reexamination of Rizal’s Second Novel El Filibusterismo” are a rereading and reexamination of Rizal’s ideas and their relevance today.

The author uses his expertise as a playwright, essayist, and historian to propose methods for reading Rizal’s novels. He believes that in order for modern readers to understand classic novels like the Noli and El filibusterismo (the Fili), they must first know the context in which they were written. He adds, a “literary work should be scrutinized in the context of historical studies, making it a document for the study of real-life social and [End Page 290] cultural settings” (1). Literary works can be used as historical sources if they are carefully examined and the lines between fact and fiction are drawn. The Noli and Fili, he argues, are sociohistorical novels rather than works of fiction, particularly when considered in the context of the time.

Another problem in teaching Rizal is the assumption that we already know all the details about him. Torres wants to disprove this idea and demonstrate that new approaches to teaching the Rizal course can still be formed. Such is his argument in the essay “Telegrafo, Electricidad, y Poste de Luz” (20–26), in which he emphasizes the role played by the nineteenth-century technological revolution in the development of Rizal as a scholar and a nationalist. The use of...