Saturday, February 6, 2016

History's Great Love Story: Dr. Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken

Dr. Jose Rizal
Jose Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 to a landed family of Chinese ancestry in Calamba, Laguna. Motivated with the desire to cure his mother of her eye disease, he studied medicine specializing in ophthalmology in University of Santo Tomas in Manila. In 1882 he went to Spain to further his study of medicine at the Universidad de Central Madrid. There, he finished his studies with flying colors, and visited several European cities to include London and Berlin. He completed his specialization in ophthalmology in 1887 at Heidelberg at age 25 under the renowned Otto Becker. To support himself, he practiced his profession and was able to develop a circle of friends such as Ferdinand Blumentritt and others. While in Europe, he wrote his first novel entitled Noli Mi Tangere.

The novel which was published in 1887 in Berlin was highly critical to the abuses of the Spanish friars who were a very powerful and influential group during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines. Although a fiction, the novel’s characters were drawn from real life persons and episodes that represented events in lives of Filipinos in typical Philippine society during Rizal’s time. Its story served as an inspiration to those who aspired for reformed or an independent Philippines either through peaceful means or armed struggle. The novel angered the friars, the elites and the educated Filipinos because of its symbolism. Rizal’s writings and his association with Filipino nationalists caused for him a blacklist as a subversive by the Spanish authorities. 

Leonor Rivera
The works of Jose Rizal did not bring him in good standing with some people. Others wanted to distance themselves from him to avoid trouble with the authorities. In his return to the Philippines in 1887, Jose’s own father, Francisco, even advised him not to see or visit his long time girlfriend Leonor Rivera whose family had moved from Manila to Pangasinan because it might endanger her family considering his status with the authorities. It was believed that Leonor was the inspiration behind Jose’s portrayal of Maria Clara, one of the main characters in Noli Mi Tangere. While Jose was in Manila, he and Leonor were constantly communicating with each other through letters. But later, he did not receive letters from her anymore although he always sent his to her. Rizal found out later that Leonor was engaged to be married to a British railway engineer Henry Kipping who was the one favored by her parents to be her husband.

Greatly devastated with the loss of his beloved Leonor to another man, Rizal returned to Europe in 1890 and visited several cities such as Madrid, Paris and Brussels in the furtherance of his career. In 1891 he published his second novel “El Filibusterismo” in Ghent. It was a sequel to the “Noli Mi Tangere”. In December 1891, he moved to Hong Kong and lived with his family. He established a clinic at D’Aguilar Street, Central District and worked from 2 pm to 6 pm. In Hong Kong he had a fling with several ladies such as Gertrude Becket, Nelly Boustead and O-Sei-San. It was also there where he first met Josephine Bracken who was then a 16 year old woman. She and her adoptive father George Taufer was in his clinic to have the failing eyesight of her father checked up.

In 1892 Rizal returned to the Philippines and formed La Liga Filipina which was quickly disbanded by the government because it saw it a seditious organization and that Rizal was considered as a subversive. Rizal was also implicated in the nascent rebellion waged by the group called Katipunan. For that reason Rizal was deported to Dapitan in Mindanao in July 1892. 

In Dapitan, Rizal won a lottery together with Spanish Provincial Governor Ricardo Carnicero and a Spaniard from nearby Dipolog. Rizal used his winnings to buy several hectares of land. To make use of his time in Dapitan he practiced his profession as an ophthalmologist and did other activities such as teaching children Spanish and other subjects. He also engaged in construction projects such as the building of school, hospital and water system. These small infrastructures helped the local community during Rizal’s stay in Dapitan.
Rizal’s reputation as a respected ophthalmologist was already widely known even outside the Philippines. Josephine Bracken recommended to her adopted father Mr. George Taufer to have an appointment with Dr. Jose Rizal in Dapitan for the treatment of his deteriorating eyesight. Josephine, Mr. Taufer and a certain Manuela Orlac, who was said to be a mistress of a friar set sail for Dapitan, and arrived in late February 1895.

Josephine Bracken
Josephine Leopoldine Bracken who was born on October 3, 1876 in Hong Kong was the daughter of a British infantry corporal. Her mother died shortly after her birth so that she was given up for adoption to George Taufer, an American engineer. But shortly thereafter, Mr. Taufer’s wife died. He married a Portuguese woman as his second wife whom he had a daughter.  But then again his second wife died in 1891, and he married for the third time. Josephine found the third Mrs. Taufer difficult to get along with so that she had to run away to Canossan sisters’convent where she had attended her early studies.  She returned to Taufer’s house only after he begged her to be with him again. 

In Dapitan, Rizal was attracted to Josephine and courted her. She was petite, and her blue eyes and brown hair indicated her Irish ancestry. She was not a woman of remarkable beauty, but her charm nevertheless captivated him. She also fell for him. And the romance between Rizal who was 34 and Josephine who was just 18 started.

When Taufer knew of the relationship, he was vehemently furious, and he tried to slash his wrist with a blade. However, Rizal and Josephine were able to stop him. After being calmed down by Rizal, Taufer listened to reason and finally accepted the relationship between her and the doctor although it upset him. Taufer’s eye condition was beyond treatment. This reason plus his daughter’s relationship with Rizal prompted him to go back to Hong Kong.

Josephine accompanied her father back to Hong Kong. While in Manila Josephine brought with her Rizal’s letter to his family, and she introduced herself to them. His parents and his siblings however were not viewing her with favor. In Manila, Josephine had to stay in the house of Rizal’s sister Narcisa, who was the one closest to her in the Rizal family. After a while Josephine returned to Dapitan to continue her life with Rizal.

In Talisay, Dapitan Rizal and Josephine’s love had grown as days went by so that they decided to cement their relationship in ecclesiastical marriage. But being an excommunicated Catholic, Rizal was advised by Fr. Obach, the would-be officiating priest, that he should first get the approval of the bishop of Cebu. However, there was no positive reply of his request from the bishop. Nevertheless, Rizal and Josephine continued to live as man and wife.

Living with Rizal, Josephine learned how to sew, cook food, and do other tasks to help him in their household routines. She attended to him. The octagonal bamboo and nipa house that they occupied was a love nest, and in time she became pregnant. While he played prank with her, she got startled and she fell to an iron stand. The accident resulted to the premature birth of a son. Rizal was deeply saddened with the incident. He named the still born child Francisco in honor of his father and buried it.

At the height of the revolution in Cuba Rizal volunteered his services as doctor to attend to the victims of yellow fever. Philippine Spanish Governor General Ramon Blanco, who was sympathetic to his plight granted his leave to that country. On July 3, 1896, Rizal and Josephine together with Narcisa  left Dapitan and boarded the “Espana” for Manila. While in Manila he was not allowed to disembark from the ship that would take him to his next destination. Josephine was however allowed to visit him in the ship. In Manila she stayed in Narcisa’s house. 

The political situation that was brewing meanwhile would somehow affect Rizal’s final destiny. Governor General Ramon Blanco who was sympathetic to Rizal was disliked by the friars because of his soft and reconciliatory stance towards the Filipino dissidents. Friars led by Archbishop of Manila Bernardo Nozaleda had worked for Blanco’s removal to Spain’s regent Queen Maria Cristina. They succeeded in their effort and on December 13, 1896 Blanco was replaced by Governor-General Camilo Polavieja who had a hardline stand against dissidents. The situation did not bode well for Rizal since he had angered the friars who wielded much political clout and that the new Governor General had an uncompromising attitude to those who were considered enemies of the state.

On August 1, 1896, the ship that Rizal boarded left the port of Manila. In route to Spain, there was an order for his arrest, and in October 6, 1896, he was detained in Barcelona, he was interrogated, and was inspected of his belongings. There were masonry papers confiscated from his possession. Implicated in the rebellion through his association with the Katipunan, Rizal was sent back to Manila to face trial.

Rizal faced a five-day preliminary investigation on November 26, 1896. Two days before his replacement as governor general on December 13, 1896, Blanco endorsed Rizal’s case to Polavieja who decided that it would be finally settled by a court martial. On December 26, 1896, Rizal faced a court martial in the building Cuartel de EspaƱa in Fort Santiago. He was charged with rebellion, sedition and illegal association. Despite the dedicated and selfless effort of defense counsel Lt. Luis Taviel de Andrade to present convincing refutation on charges against Rizal, the court found the accused guilty of all the charges, and Rizal was sentenced to die by firing squad.   
A day before his execution Rizal gave a stove to his sister Trinidad and whispered to her that there was something in it. He also summoned Josephine and the two had their last time together. It was said that before his execution Rizal renounced masonry and reverted to Catholicism. It was also reported that two or one hour before the execution, he and Josephine Bracken were married in a Catholic ceremony officiated by Fr. Vicente Balaguer.  

Mi Ultimo Adios
The cooking stove given by Rizal to Trinidad was later found out to contain a piece of paper with a poem entitled “Mi Ultimo Adios” or “My Last Farewell”. On the last line of the poem were the words “Adios mi dulce stranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria” or “Farewell my sweet stranger, my darling, my delight”. That line is believed to be dedicated to Josephine Bracken.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
On December 30, 1896, Rizal was escorted by the guards to the execution site in Bagumbayan. Filipino squad backed up by Spanish squad behind it had to do the shooting. Before the shots, a military doctor checked Rizal’s pulse and was amazed to find it to be normal. At about 7 am an order to fire accompanied with beats of the drums was then given to the executioners. As he fell to the ground Rizal uttered his last words “consumatum est” or “it is completed!”. He also mustered his last remaining strength to turn his body around so that he would die facing the sky. Rizal was only 35 years old when he died.

Dr. Jose Rizal's execution
On that day a martyr shed his blood on his country’s soil. It was a blood that would later nurture the seed of his countrymen’s aspirations for an independent country and a better tomorrow. In his Noli Mi Tangere Rizal wrote foretelling words said by the dying Elias to the child Basilio who are two of his characters in that novel: “I shall die without the dawn breaking upon my homeland. You shall see it, salute it! Do not forget those who have fallen before the night.” Jose Rizal was later buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery in Paco, Manila. 
After the death of Rizal, Josephine joined the revolutionaries. She was reported to have witnessed the Tejeros Convention. For her activities she was summoned by Governor General Polavieja who ordered her to leave the Philippines. But she being the daughter of an American citizen could not be forcibly deported from the country. But after receiving advises from the American consul, she voluntarily left for Hong Kong to join her father who died shortly after their reunion.

In Hong Kong Josephine met Vicente Abad, a Filipino-Spanish mestizo. He married her on December 15, 1898. They later went to Cebu where he set up a bicycle store while she spent her spare time tutoring English. On April 17, 1900, she gave birth to a daughter which the couple named Dolores. After a few years Josephine returned to Hong-Kong where she died of tuberculosis on March 15, 1902. She was only 25 years old.