Translator’s Introduction - Page 9 of 31

(English version of “Noli Me Tangere”)

Nor does an institution that has been slowly growing for three centuries, molding the very life and fiber of the people, disintegrate without a violent struggle, either in its own constitution or in the life of the people trained under it.  Not only the ecclesiastical but also the social and political system of the country was controlled by the religious orders, often silently and secretly, but none the less effectively.  This is evident from the ceaseless conflict that went on between the religious orders and the Spanish political administrators, who were at every turn thwarted in their efforts to keep the government abreast of the times.

The shock of the affair of 1872 had apparently stunned the Filipinos, but it had at the same time brought them to the parting of the ways and induced a vague feeling that there was something radically wrong, which could only be righted by a closer union among themselves.  They began to consider that their interests and those of the governing powers were not the same.  In these feelings of distrust toward the friars they were stimulated by the great numbers of immigrant Spaniards who were then entering the country, many of whom had taken part in the republican movements at home and who, upon the restoration of the monarchy, no doubt thought it safer for them to be at as great a distance as possible from the throne.  The young Filipinos studying in Spain came from different parts of the islands, and by their association there in a foreign land were learning to forget their narrow sectionalism; hence the way was being prepared for some concerted action.  Thus, aided and encouraged by the anti-clerical Spaniards in the mother country, there was growing up a new generation of native leaders, who looked toward something better than the old system.

It is with this period in the history of the country—the author’s boyhood—that the story of Noli Me Tangere deals.  Typical scenes and characters are sketched from life with wonderful accuracy, and the picture presented is that of a master-mind, who knew and loved his subject.  Terror and repression were the order of the day, with ever a growing unrest in the higher circles, while the native population at large seemed to be completely cowed—brutalized is the term repeatedly used by Rizal in his political essays.  Spanish writers of the period, observing only the superficial movements,—some of which were indeed fantastical enough, for

they,

Who in oppression’s darkness caved have dwelt,

They are not eagles, nourished with the day;

What marvel, then, at times, if they mistake their way?

—and not heeding the currents at work below, take great delight in ridiculing the pretensions of the young men seeking advancement, while they indulge in coarse ribaldry over the wretched condition of the great mass of the Indians.  The author, however, himself a miserable Indian, vividly depicts the unnatural conditions and dominant characters produced under the outworn system of fraud and force, at the same time presenting his people as living, feeling, struggling individuals, with all the frailties of human nature and all the possibilities of mankind, either for good or evil; incidentally he throws into marked contrast the despicable depreciation used by the Spanish writers in referring to the Filipinos, making clear the application of the self-evident proposition that no ordinary human being in the presence of superior force can very well conduct himself as a man unless he be treated as such.

Learn this Filipino word:

tagâ sa panahón