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RIZAL, SEX measure for determining the degree to

which a culture could be called civilised.

AND CIVILISATION 1 Primitive societies, he observed, were
characterised by ‘gratification of the
Raquel Reyes 2 sexual instinct’ being ‘the primary motive
in man as well as in beast’; by men and
Abstract women having sexual intercourse openly
and unashamed of their nakedness; and by
a relatively low value being placed on
This essay focuses on the work of the women’s ‘virginity, chastity, modesty and
Filipino ilustrado, José Rizal, and his sexual fidelity’ (Krafft-Ebing 1998:2).
interest in the prevailing debate over
whether the sexual behaviour of a culture Woman in uncivilised societies was the
reflects its level of civilisation. Spanish “common property of man, the spoil of the
apologists for colonial rule had strongest and mightiest….a “chattel”, an
persistently argued that the Filipinos article of commerce, exchange or gift, a
remained in many ways a backward and vessel for sensual gratification, an
primitive people and delighted in alleging implement for toil.” Certain “savage
in support of their case that lasciviousness races” illustrated this uncivilised condition
and promiscuity were widespread in the most strikingly, and the very best
Philippines. These allegations caused examples, in Krafft-Ebing’s opinion, were
deep offence to Rizal and his fellow the “Australasians, Polynesians, (and)
propagandistas, who wanted, as a matter Malays of the Philippines” (Krafft-Ebing
of patriotic honour, to repudiate such 1998:1).
colonialist slurs. Through an examination
of a selected sample of Rizal’s annotations Rizal lived in Germany in 1886-87 and
to Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas was well attuned to European scientific
Filipinas, the author explores the ways in and intellectual currents. Possibly he was
which Rizal sought to prove the civilized aware of Krafft-Ebing’s work, and
nature of his people through the assertion certainly he was keenly interested in the
of female sexual chastity and sexual wider debate over whether the sexual
honour. behaviour of a culture reflected its level of
civilisation. Physicians and ethnographers,
In the introduction to his famous work Rizal saw, were prone to categorise
Psychopathia sexualis, the German mankind into different physical types and
psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing to draw sweeping generalisations about
affirmed that sexual life was the finest how these types differed in their
intellectual capacity, cultural attainment
This essay is a slightly modified version of a and refinement, personal morality and
chapter from my book Love, Passion and sexual behaviour. Rizal did not object in
Patriotism: sexuality and the Philippine principle to generalisations of this nature,
propaganda movement, 1882-1892 (Singapore but he did object forcefully to their lack of
and Seattle: University of Singapore Press and discrimination. Emphatically, he did not
Washington University Press, 2008) accept any generalisations that attached
Research Fellow, Department of History, imputations of primitiveness to Hispanized
School of Oriental and African Studies, lowland Filipinos like himself.
University of London
Rizal, Sex and Civilisation

Krafft-Ebing’s reference to the Philippines Ploss repeated Blumentritt’s observations

gave added currency to the notion that that the Tagalogs of Luzon,
Filipinos could be classified as primitive notwithstanding their “higher civilisation
on the basis of their reputedly unbridled and milder morals” in relation to the
sexual life. To understand his assertion it Negritos and “mountain tribes,”
is instructive to trace its intellectual manifested a pronounced lack of sexual
genealogy. Ultimately, we shall see, it modesty. Blumentritt had even gone so
rested on Spanish sources that the far as to say that the Tagalogs displayed a
propagandistas saw as tainted by racial number of animal-like faculties. They
prejudice and imperial self-interest. were remarkably adept at manipulating
Krafft-Ebing’s footnote reveals his their toes to pick up small objects, and
indebtedness to Heinrich Ploss, whose they retained an acute sense of smell,
ambitiously titled magnum opus Das Weib especially the women, who were “able to
in der Natur – und Volkerkunde first find out whether the men nearby them are
appeared in 1884. 3 Ploss in turn relied sexually excited or not” (Blumentritt
primarily on the works of three authors, all 1980:34-35).’ The excessive immorality
of whom Rizal later met: the Austrian and sensuality of the Tagalogs,
Ferdinand Blumentritt ([1880] 1980) 4 ; as Blumentritt affirmed, were part of the
well as the Germans Alex Schadenberg ‘pagan legacy’ that endured despite the
(1880:133) (who had studied the Negritos) evangelizing efforts of the Spanish friars.
and Fedor Jagor (1873 and 1880) (who
had travelled widely in the archipelago). In making these assertions, Blumentritt
drew upon, and thereby gave added
Blumentritt in particular was a key source, credence to, the travel observations of
especially his Versuch einer Ethnographie Francisco Cañamaque, a Spanish journalist
der Philippinen, which was published in and traveller whom the propagandistas
1882 – four years before the Austrian would later energetically attack
orientalist became acquainted with Rizal (Cañamaque 1877 and 1879). Immorality,
and the Filipino propaganda campaign. Blumentritt gleaned from Cañamaque, was
widespread both in Manila and in the
Undergoing numerous re-publications, the countryside of the Tagalog region:
work was continued and revised after the
author’s death by his collaborators Max Virginity is not a virtue for the
Bartels and Paul Bartels. In its final girls easily give themselves up to
incarnation, published in 1935, Ploss’s work any of their lovers, and only a
expanded into three volumes which with the small number of them are still
aid of numerous intimate illustrations ‘dealt virgin when they are brought
fully’, its editor boasted, ‘with those aspects of
before the altar for marriage.
a woman’s life which are little known even to
gynaecologists.’ (Bartels and Bartels, eds.
Sexual intercourse, according to
1935) Cañamaque, is performed without
Besides relying extensively on Blumentritt’s any ceremony even in the streets.
Versuch einer Ethnographie, Ploss also The same writer claims that
consulted the same author’s ’Der Ahnenkultus fornication is also a children’s
in. die religiosen Anschauungen der Malayen vice. Cañamaque says that they
des Philippinen-Archipel’, Mittheilungen. are a people without any feeling of
d.k.k. Geographie Gesellschaft in Wien, 2-3 shame. Women and men
(1882), pp.177ff.

MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No.14, 2007

especially in the provinces, allow thesis was that the pre-Hispanic indios had
themselves to be seen completely attained a high level of civilisation, and
naked. that this civilisation had been corrupted
(Blumentritt 1980:46) 5 and destroyed as a result of Spanish
conquest. As a vehicle for advancing this
Blumentritt, whose observations on the thesis, he chose to annotate one of the
primitiveness of Filipino sexual life had fullest and most objective accounts by a
influenced other German scientists like secular Spaniard, Antonio de Morga’s
Ploss and Krafft-Ebing, had ultimately Sucesos de las islas Filipinas, which had
based his pronouncements on the casual first been published in 1609. Rizal
travel notes of reactionary and racist regarded the author as ‘a learned explorer’
apologists for Spanish colonialism. who possessed ‘nothing of the
superficiality and exaggeration so peculiar
Rizal never adequately confronted the to the Spaniards’. 7 Equally important, he
degree to which this reliance on flawed had been a high-ranking colonial official,
sources in fact shattered the academic and not a friar; he regarded the religious
validity of Blumentritt’s comments on orders, indeed, as a source of lamentation
Filipino social life and customs. Indeed, and trial (Cummins 1972:4). Rizal
Rizal actually commended Blumentritt’s published his edition of the Morga in Paris
ethnographic study, esteemed him as a in 1890 (Rizal 1890a).
scholar and, as is well known, struck up a
personal friendship and correspondence When working on his annotations, Rizal
with him. Nobody else in the world, Rizal mined an array of early Spanish missionary
even went so far as to say, was better chronicles as well as the travel accounts of
qualified than Blumentritt to write the other Europeans. Throughout the work, he
history of the Philippines. highlighted and elaborated the points
Morga made about the material and
When he failed to persuade Blumentritt to cultural attainments of pre–colonial
undertake this task, Rizal decided to tackle society and reflected on their subsequent
it himself, and in 1888-89 spent a number decline, destruction and debasement
of months in London reading as many wrought by Spanish colonization. He
sources as he could find on Filipino dwelt on the prosperity of the Islands’
society at the time of the Spanish agriculture and commerce, on their
conquest. He studied mainly in the flourishing mining, shipbuilding and
Reading Room of the British Museum, metalworking industries and on the well-
where other readers during his visit
included H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling,
Eleanor Marx and Peter Kropotkin. 6 7
Josè Rizal (London) to Ferdinand
Rizal’s project was to build what cultural Blumentritt, 17 September 1888, Rizal-
historian Resil Mojares has called ‘a Blumentritt Correspondence, (Manila: Jose
nationalist counter-narrative.’ His overall Rizal Centennial Commission, 1961), p.201.
Antonio de Morga obtained his doctorate in
This passage is closely paraphrased by Ploss canon law from the University of Salamanca in
in Das Weib, vol.I, p.223. 1578. He was appointed to Manila as
British Museum Signature of Readers, 4 June lieutenant governor in 1593 and five years later
1887-11 October 1888. Unpublished volume, became a judge in the Supreme Court of the
British Museum Reading Room archive. colony, the Audiencia.

Rizal, Sex and Civilisation

developed material culture and literacy of daughters to a life of unchastity;

the pre-Hispanic inhabitants. so that there is nothing so vile for
the latter that they cannot do it
On matters of sex, however, what Rizal before their mothers, since they
read in the Morga and the other early incur no punishment.
Spanish sources he found in the British (Loarca 1582:1618)
Museum, presented a major problem.
These early chronicles, he discovered, How then was Rizal to deal with such
were replete with detailed descriptions of a accounts? As we noted, he subscribed
variety of sexual behaviour, relationships fully to the notion then prevalent in
and socially sanctioned practices that did medical and scientific thinking, that the
not at all accord with what 19th century degree of civilisation a society had
scientific thinking would classify as attained should be measured as much, if
civilised. They foreshadowed, in other not more, by its sexual life as by its
words, the Spanish accounts that Rizal and material wealth and high culture.
his fellow propagandistas so vehemently Evidence of lasciviousness in the pre-
attacked as insulting and false. The early Hispanic archipelago was directly at
chroniclers recited a litany of aberrations, variance with the nationalist ‘counter-
perversions and mortal sins. They narrative’ he wanted to construct.
witnessed fornication, adultery, forms of
polygamy, polyandry, concubinage, incest Throughout his combative annotations,
and what they called the ‘sin against Rizal tried manfully to defend the pre-
nature’, in other words sodomy, which conquest indio women from the calumnies
encompassed homosexual, heterosexual of the Spanish chroniclers. The
and bestial anal penetration. Sex, to the allegations of women’s inordinate sexual
pre-colonial natives, evidently entailed appetite were persistent, and Rizal found it
much more than the propagation of the difficult to refute them as decisively as he
species. It was also enjoyed, much to the would have liked. He challenged the
chroniclers’ disgust, purely in the pursuit allegations wherever he could, but where
of carnal pleasure. he could not, he found it difficult to
maintain a coherent and plausible
Predictably, the blame for this sorry state argument. Where he felt in clear
of affairs was laid by the Spanish conscience unable to dispute the evidence
chroniclers principally on the native he often tried to fudge the issue – by
women. The mujer indigena, they conflating the past and the present, by
repeatedly remarked, was lascivious and digression, or, predictably, by making
unchaste; her sexual desires shockingly women’s fondness for sex more palatable
unruly and unmanaged. Miguel de by linking it explicitly to the desire to
Loarca’s observation in 1582 was typical: reproduce. The reason there was little
sexual modesty, he tried to claim in one
The women are beautiful, but annotation, was because native women
unchaste. They do not hesitate to ‘saw nothing sinful in the act of
commit adultery, because they reproducing the species.’
receive no punishment for
it…[They are] extremely lewd, Rizal clearly found dealing with the
and they even encourage their own historical evidence of the indio women’s

MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No.14, 2007

strong libido a painful struggle. At some respect for women, but in reality,
points he would seek to challenge the contended Rizal, marriage had been a
evidence, to excise the sensuality inherent union of equals. Women were not forced
in the image of the pre-colonial native into arranged marriages but could marry
woman portrayed by Morga and replace it the husband of their own choice, showing
with an undebauched, moral, if not prudish that they enjoyed the same autonomy as
representation. His fellow propagandista men. The fact that there was no dowry
Pedro Paterno, he noted, had already system showed that bridegrooms did not
“brilliantly refuted” the assertion of Morga regard their brides as heavy burdens, or
and other chroniclers that young native yokes, but as companions and helpmates.
men and women had been sexually As Rizal noted:
“incontinent” by citing other texts and
testimonies that held the contrary. There The Tagalog wife is free and
were also numerous instances in the respected, she manages and
chroniclers’ accounts, said Rizal, of young contracts, almost always with the
women who so prized their chastity that approval of her husband, who
they preferred death rather than surrender consults her about all his acts.
themselves to Spanish conquistadores and She is the keeper of the money.
officials. She educates the children… She is
not the European woman who
To substantiate his case, Rizal marshalled marries, and loses her name,
whatever evidence he could find that rights, liberty… limited to reign
testified to the modesty, domesticity and over the salon, to entertain guests,
high repute of pre-Hispanic women. and to sit at the right of her
Quoting from the 1605 account of the husband.
Jesuit missionary Pedro Chirino, whose (Rizal 1890a: 53)
portrayal of native society was much more
sympathetic than that of most early Filipino women, Rizal asserted, brought to
chroniclers, he related that even when the domestic domain something far more
bathing women kept their bodies ‘bent valuable than a dowry. They brought
and…immersed in the water until the moral rectitude. The Filipina, he claimed,
throat, [taking] the greatest care not to be was able to restrain her passions, to
seen, though there may not be anybody channel her love and energy into domestic
who can see them’(Rizal 1890a:262). In life and to inject ‘economy’ into the
all places they were ‘circumspect and ‘irregular life of a bachelor’. She was
careful in covering their bodies with responsible for the education of her
extreme modesty and bashfulness’(Rizal children, independently conducted
1890a:288). Marriage in pre-Spanish financial business as she saw fit, and her
times, Rizal contended, was a union of husband sought her counsel and respected
equals, more egalitarian in fact than both her decisions. Highlighting customs of
the traditional European dowry system and bilateral inheritance and divorce, Rizal
more contemporary European customs. pointed to a historical legacy of gender
The Spanish chroniclers had disparaged equality and then constructed an image of
the marriage and divorce customs they enlightened, civilised femininity. The pre-
encountered, claiming they illustrated the conquest indio woman thus became a
amorality of native culture and a lack of positive signifier – she was wise, prudent,

Rizal, Sex and Civilisation

nurturing, industrious and entrepreneurial resorted instead to question their

(Rizal 1890a: 263). credibility by drawing a tortuous,
whimsical analogy between virginity and
But, however much Rizal saluted the ballroom dancing. If pre-marital ballroom
outward modesty of pre-Hispanic women, dancing were considered a sin like pre-
their equal standing with men, and their marital sex, he jested, then young men
admirable domesticity after marriage, he would not want expert dancers for their
could not lay to rest the vexed issue of brides; rather they would seek those
their sexuality. Rizal had been guided by women whose dancing was most inept,
his patriotic desire to portray pre-Hispanic who would tread clumsily on their feet
civilisation in the best light possible. But, (Rizal 1890b: 309-310).
as he later affirmed, he had not allowed
himself to take liberties with the historical Plainer and more forthright was Rizal’s
record. So far as the sexual habits of indio rejoinder to Morga’s assertion that indio
women were concerned, he admitted, he women loved money so much they would
could not ‘deny what I had found in the yield themselves up easily for a price
testimonies of all the authors’ (Rizal (Rizal 1890a: 263). To this, Rizal
1890b: 504-507). responded that prostitution was found
everywhere in the world. Europe itself,
Unable to dispute what appeared to be now so self-satisfied with its morality, he
incontrovertible, Rizal tried instead to noted, had a long history of sexual
explain and excuse, but his arguments, licentiousness, of worshipping the ‘cult of
smooth when affirming gender equality, Venus, Priapus, Bacchus etc…of orgies
became conspicuously less assured. Again and Bacchanalia…of prostitution in
drawing on the writing of the Jesuit Christian Europe, and above all in the
Chirino, Rizal related that the reported Rome of the popes’. In this matter, he
‘weakness’ of indio women seemed to be rightly said, “no nation can cast the first
rooted partly in superstitious belief. After stone.” He insisted, nevertheless, that
death, it was said, women needed to cross whatever the excesses of the past, “the
a very dangerous river before they reached Filipinas of today have no reason to blush
paradise, and the only bridge across the before the women of the most chaste
river was a narrow tree trunk. To get nations of the world” (Rizal 1890a: 263).
across safely they needed to be led by the
hand of a lover they had known in their Rizal believed firmly in the need for moral
earthly life, and a lover in this context did rules, but wanted them based on reason
not mean a husband. rather than on ‘pagan’ superstition or the
teachings of an obscurantist Church.
No less strange was his response to the Other ancient peoples, he observed, had
report of Morga that there had been men in likewise regarded sex in terms of
indio society who were paid to deflower biological imperatives and natural
virgins before their marriage so that their instincts. The ancient Jews, for example,
husbands would then “not have to bother had not prohibited the sexual act except
themselves with overcoming their bride’s when it was adulterous. “Only
maidenhood” (Rizal 1890b: 309). Christianity, he continued, had “made the
Constrained by lack of evidence in act a mortal sin because…it saw
disputing the truth of these reports, Rizal everything carnal as corrupt, bad, like

MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No.14, 2007

something from the devil, giving rise to of Europe and China, or when “excessive
that horror of the flesh that dominated the privation”, such as that imposed “in
Cenobites, hermits…in the first centuries, certain single sex convents and schools”,
a reaction of disgust perhaps at the laxity compelled nature to adulterate itself by
of ancient Rome and of all pagan society.” wandering down “mistaken paths” (Rizal
But between carnality and the gloomy and 1890a: 308).
barren “anti-naturalism” of the Christian
zealots, between “excessive naturalism” Morga had claimed that sodomy had
and “excessive privation”, Rizal argued, become more widespread after the arrival
there was a middle ground that he of the Chinese. Much inclined to this vice,
described as “obedience to natural laws they had succeeded in contaminating indio
without adulterating them or frustrating men and women. Writing not long after
the purposes that all things have” (Rizal one of the first and bloodiest massacres of
1890a: 289). For Rizal the attainment of the Chinese by the Spaniards in 1603,
this balance was the true mark of killings enthusiastically aided and abetted
civilisation. by the Tagalogs in Manila, Morga
evidently continued to harbour a common,
Yet according to historical sources, deep-seated Spanish prejudice (Kamen
Filipinos seemed far too inclined to 2002: 208), and also (Retana 1909:475). 8
disobey and adulterate ‘natural laws’. Rizal also makes plain his own antipathy
Especially troubling to Rizal was the towards the Chinese:
recurrent mention of incest and sodomy.
Morga’s claim that incest was an Despite what Morga says and
“ordinary” practice, he sensibly countered despite the fact that almost three
as simply an exaggeration. Incest may not centuries have already elapsed
have been totally absent, he conceded, but since then, the Filipinos continue
again he argued that it was not so abhorring this crime and they have
prevalent as in other places and times, as been so little contaminated that in
was testified by “the annals of the great order to commit it the Chinese and
peoples and families of Christian and other foreigners make use of their
devout Europe.” Furthermore, Morga’s compatriots, of indio women and
comments reminded him of the slanderous those who are their wives or of
scribblings of certain morally dubious some miserable vagabond
Spanish hacks of his own day. “In order children.
to assert such dirty stupidities”, Rizal (Rizal 1890a: 308-309)
provocatively suggested, “it is necessary
to have witnessed them, or believe oneself
capable of doing the same if placed in the There are two critical features to note in
same circumstances” (Rizal 1890a: 307). this diatribe against sodomy. Firstly, Rizal
vehemently refutes Morga’s claims of
In his footnote on sodomy, Rizal was even pervasive sodomitical practices amongst
more passionate. He saw sodomy as an the Filipinos, and asserts that the relative
‘abominable crime’. He believed it
occurred either when men became
‘disgusted by prostitution’ and here he Wenceslao Retana’s annotations to the Morga
offered as examples the southern regions also provide details of the Spanish laws
enacted to prohibit sodomy in the colonies.

Rizal, Sex and Civilisation

“uncontamination” of the Filipino is a their miembro viril, close to its

result of an historical hatred towards head, and pass through it a
sodomy that continues even after three device that resembles a serpent’s
hundred years. Secondly, the “Filipinos” head made of metal or ivory,
Rizal speaks of here refers not to indio which is then secured in
men and women in general but exclusively place by material of the same
concerns men. Rizal’s stance against substance. With this device
sodomy was all too plain. Ancient Filipino they have intercourse with a
men vigorously resisted and were, so to woman, and are unable to
speak, impenetrable. Thus, Chinese men withdraw long after coitus, for
and other sodomising foreigners had little women are so addicted and find
choice but to use their fellow countrymen, delight in it despite shedding
native women and wretched stray children. much blood and receiving other
Morga had thought sodomy was an injuries. These devices are
abomination and Rizal agreed. Rizal’s called sagras…
long footnote declared his disgust and (Morga [1609] 1890a: 145)
refuted its incidence among indio men by
stating that the practice was abhorred by
them and hence contained, and therefore Morga had not been alone in documenting
restricted to foreigners and their hapless these painful penile piercings. Indeed, his
weak partners. was one of the later observations. The
first European to record his fascinated, but
Yet the criminality of this ‘sin against horrified reaction to the penile implants
nature’ paled in comparison to a sexual and incisions so common in Southeast
practice which Morga regarded as even Asia was Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler
more shocking, wicked and depraved, not of Magellan’s voyage of 1521. In Java,
least because of its unfamiliarity to his Pigafetta had heard the delicate sound of
European eyes. This was the custom of tinkling bells emanating from the penises
men in the Philippines, especially the of men who had come, on the pretense of
tattooed people (Pintados) of the Visayas urinating, to serenade their sweethearts
to pierce their penises. Credit for the with the melodious music they made by
invention of, and demand for, this bloody shaking their penises (Pigafetta 1523:169).
and devilish practice was unequivocally But subtle music-making in Java was a far
attributed by Morga to the unrelentingly cry from the assortment of flesh-tearing
lustful indio women: wheels, stars, spurs and gold bolts as large
as a ‘goose quill’ in use in the Philippines
The natives of the Islands of that Pigafetta scrupulously went on to
the Pintados, especially the detail (Pigafetta 1523: 167).
women, are very vicious and
sensual, and their malevolence Rizal had made good use of Pigafetta’s
has led them to invent lewd enthralling, richly detailed account and
(torpe) ways of intercourse would have found it impossible to miss the
between women and men. The Italian’s startling descriptions of penile
men have a custom that they erotic surgery. But what was most
practice from their youth remarkable about the numerous accounts
onwards. They make a hole in given by the historical sources, was not the

MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No.14, 2007

variety of devices for penis being used and References

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Sucesos de las islas Filipinas.
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Cummins. Cambridge: Cambridge
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University Press.
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more deafening by the long annotations on
Jagor, Fedor. 1873. Reisen in den
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Rizal’s silences in the Morga are rare
Jagor, Fedor. 1880. Sexuelle
occasions but telling ones, and such is the
abnormitaten bei den Bisayern,
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Anthropologie, Ethnologie und
descriptions and more importantly, had
Urgeschichte, 12: 90-1.
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we can only surmise that on this point he Empire: The Making of a World
felt unable to refute Morga. Power 1492-1763. London: Penguin.

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