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    Jose Rizal: Symbols on the Cover of Noli Me Tangere

    All of us Filipinos breezed through high school and college studied Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo that fueled this nation's people to rise in arms against the oppressive colonizers and obscurantist friars, plus the "elective" Life and Works of Jose Rizal in college (that not all Filipinos have the chance to experience should they ever graduate from high school)

    Noli Me Tangere, published in 1887 in Belgium, when Rizal was 26, written in Spanish, fueled a nation's revolution.

    If you want to see original copies of the book, there's one at the Rizal Shrine in Intramuros, another at the National Museum and still another at the Lopez Museum in Pasig City. (I don't remember seeing one at the rebuilt Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna when I visited it eons ago)

    Noli Me Tangere is now available at Penguin and acknowledged as one of the literary classics of all time written by the pride of the Malay race!

    I decided to blog about this since it would've been Jose Rizal's 146th birthday.

    Someone posted a query about the meaning of the art work on the cover of Noli Me Tangere to which I replied "woman at the top symbolizing constancy,religious faith symbolized by the tombstone, laurel (courage) and the flower of the pomelo, worn by bride and groom at a wedding symbolizing purity (don't see this anymore here maybe due to practical reasons)"

    noli me tangere cover

    but perhaps the best and most complete answer was given by Mr. Ari Ngaseo in Message 1440 of RP-Rizal yahoogroups:


    All About the Noli Me Tangere's Cover

    First, since it's difficult to figure out, from the blurry photographs available online, what exactly is being depicted in the Noli's rather busy cover design, here's a brief description:

    "It was the fashion in those days for authors to be pictured on the front covers of their books (modern book jackets have, in such cases, relegated the author's photograph to the back cover) and there was nothing immodest about it, but Rizal had second thoughts, hesitated and designed another cover.

    "It was perhaps over elaborate: the title cuts diagonally across the front, covering a handwritten dedication, apparently to his parents, from which the following phrase can be made out: 'In was you who implanted in me...the first ideas...this manuscript...proof of love.' In the upper corner
    of the cover is the silhouette of a girl's head (the unfortunate Maria Clara?); at the bottom, two hairy calves protrude from a habit, the feet encased in sandals (Father Damaso, if one is to judge from the opening scene of the Noli). Scattered about are other symbols: a constabulary helmet, a whip, a length of chain, thorny bamboo branches, flowers, and a graveyard cross. It is all very romantic and, in its own way, appropriate." (Guerrero, 133)

    Elaborate and romantic indeed but also faintly sadomasochistic. Intentionally or not, the cover also plays a trick on the eye of its beholder -- stare at the cover long enough and you'll see a fantastic creature, a chimera really, with the head of a Spanish- India mestiza and the legs of a Spanish friar. The text itself is the torso that the title -- "Touch Me Not" -- bars us, literally and figuratively, from seeing in full. Could this be a grotesque portrait of Rizal's patria adorada? One could argue that the cover is evocative of Philippine colonial society in general -- the
    feminine "elevated" but also placed in shadow; the religious orders "running" everything "behind" the scenes; and death, cruelty, and bondage amid the lush tropical vegetation. But one could also argue (unoriginally) that the Noli's cover offers a pictorial summary of the main text. Each element of the cover then refers to
    specific passages in the novel.

    Which passages? Here are some suggestions. All the passages below are from the mass market paperback edition of the Noli translated by Lacson-Locsin and published by Bookmark in 1996.

    the silhouette of a girl's head:

    "'Padre Cura! Padre Cura!' [Padre Salvi] the Spaniards cried to him; but he did not mind them. He ran in the direction of the Capitan Tiago's house. There he breathed a sigh of relief. He saw through the transparent gallery an adorable silhouette full of grace and the lovely contours of Maria Clara and that of her aunt bearing glasses
    and cups." (366)

    two hairy calves protruding from a habit, the feet encased in sandals:

    "However, Padre Damaso is not mysterious like those monks; he is jolly and if the sound of his voice is brusque like that of a man who has never bitten his tongue and who believes everything he utters is sacrosanct and cannot be improved upon, his gay and frank laughter erases this disagreeble impression, even to the extent that
    one feels bound to forgive him his sockless feet and a pair of hairy legs which would fetch the fortune of a Mendiata in the Quiapo fair." (7)

    a constabulary helmet:

    "The Alferez [Dona Consolacion's husband] picked up his helmet, straightened himslef a bit and marched off with loud giant strides. After a few minutes he returned, not making the least sound. He had removed his boots. The servants, accustomed to these spectacles [violent arguments between the Alferez and Dona Consolacion], were
    usually bored, but the removal of the boots called their attention. They winked at each other." (355)

    a whip [1]:

    "[Dona Consolacion] took a few turns in the room twisting the whip in her calloused hands and, stopping all of a sudden in front of Sisa, told her in Spanish, 'Dance!'
    "...[Dona Consolacion] raised the whip -- that terrible whip familiar to thieves and soldiers, made in Ulango and perfected by the Alferez with twisted wires... And she started to whip lightly the naked feet of the mad woman, whose face contracted with pain,obliging her to defend herself with her hands." (352)

    a whip [2]:

    Elias -- "[S]ince he was poor and could not pay for able lawyers, he was condemned to be scourged in public and taken through the streets of Manila. Not long long ago this was in use, this infamous punishment the people call "caballo y vaca," a thousand times worse than death itself. My grandfather, abandoned by all except his young
    wife, was tied to a horse, followed by a cruel multitude, and flogged on every street corner, before other men, his brothers, and in the neighborhood if the numerous temples of a God of peace." (441-2)

    a length of chain:

    "Then you see the streets being tamped down by a chain gang of prisoners with shaved heads, clad in short-sleeved shirts and drawers reaching to the knees, with numbers and letters in blue; chains around their legs, half-wrapped in dirty rags to reduce the abrasion, or perhaps the coldness of the iron; joined in pairs, sunburnt, prostrate from heat and fatigue, given lashes, and beaten with a club by another prisoner who perhaps found comfort in ill-treating others." (65)

    thorny bamboo branches:

    "Bamboo clumps of luxuriant foliage grew alongside the highway. In other times she would stop in their shade. Here she [Sisa] and her lover would rest; with a tender exchange of words he would relieve her of her basket of fruits and vegetables -- ay! that was like dream. The lover became husband; the husband was made into a barangay head and then misfortune started knocking at her door. "As the sun's heat was becoming intense, the soldiers asked her if she wanted rest.

    "'No, thank you!' she replied with a shudder.

    "When they approached the town she was seized with terror; she looked in anguish around her; vast ricefields, a small irrigation canal, thin trees -- there was not a precipice or a boulder in sight against which she could smash herself." (166-7)

    flowers and a graveyard cross:

    "Ibarra descended, followed by an old man-servant. He dismissed the carriage with the gesture and headed towards the cemetery, silent and grave.

    "'My sickness and my preoccupations have not allowed me to return,'the old man was saying timidly. 'Capitan Tiago said he would have atomb built, but I planted flowers and had a cross made.

    "...[Ibarra] proceeded towards the gravedigger who was regarding them with curiosity, and greeted them, removing his salakot.

    "'Can you tell is which is the grave that had the cross?' asked the servant.
    "'A big cross?' [asked the gravedigger.]
    "'Yes, a big one,' happily confirmed the servant, looking meaningfully at Ibarra, whose features had brightened.
    "'A cross with designs on it, tied with rattan?' the gravedigger asked again.

    "'That's it, that's it! Like this, like this,' the servant traced on the earth the shape of a Byzantine cross.

    "'And over the grave were flowers planted?'

    "'Adelfas, sampagas, and pensamientos, that's it!' added the servant filled with joy. He offered him a cigar.

    "'Tell us which is the grave and where the cross is.'

    "The gravedigger rubbed his ears and replied yawning: 'Well, the cross -- I have already burned it.'

    "'Burned it? Why did you burn it?'

    "'Because the chief parish priest so ordered.'" (92-4)


    Labels: ,

    posted by GingGoy @ 9:42 PM,


    At Jun 19, 2007, 6:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    t2b, don't forget that rizal is the masons' supremo. so these catholic-haters most probably had to remove all those catholic symbols -u know

    At Jun 19, 2007, 7:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick Ballesteros said...

    I took "the life and works of Dr. Jose Rizal" as a summer class and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was, in fact, one of my higher grades.

    In the novel, I so hated the Filipina who became wealthy and disassociated herself with her being Filipino. Was she Dona Consolacion? Didn't she make Sisa dance on a whim?

    At Jun 20, 2007, 5:59:00 AM, Blogger carlotta1924 said...

    interesting post. i never gave the book's cover much thought, maybe because the only version i've read of the novel is the one required in school. there were even answers on the activities there coz it was a hand-me-down. bo-ring! i'd rather read the one that isn't a textbook.

    At Jun 20, 2007, 11:13:00 AM, Blogger - said...

    trivia nnman yan sir,hehehe. ang galing...

    At Jun 20, 2007, 5:30:00 PM, Blogger tin-tin said...

    hmmm... it made me think. was the cover ever discussed in our class? :)

    At Jun 21, 2007, 1:53:00 PM, Blogger Any given madness said...

    bad the way we studied these books in high school. we just memorize the name of the santo that resides at the steps of kapitan tiago household, or the people that recieved the locket of maria clara. the teachers, well my teachers, failed to present these classics as works of art, and make their student see and appreciate it as a book.

    At Jun 21, 2007, 6:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I'd love to get a copy of this novel because I've read so much about Dr. Jose's work. Too bad I cannot find the translated version here. Haay!

    At Jun 21, 2007, 6:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


    also don't forget that it's still hotly debated that rizal retraction is a hoax.


    i enjoyed, too, that subject and my prof was also the author of the book we're using


    boring yan kung boring din teacher


    jose rizal trivia nga. minsan nga some guys mistake to be a rizalist


    di naman usually discuss yan sa school. the teachers are usually bookies who do their job perfunctorily


    usual way of teaching history by memorization. boring teachers make boring subjects. siguro you also memorized "mi ultimo adios" :)


    an ebook copy of Noli Me Tangere in english can be downloaded here

    At Jun 21, 2007, 11:58:00 PM, Blogger jhenny said...

    i love noli me tangere, and thanks for the history of the cover :)

    At Jun 22, 2007, 9:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    uy, nice explanation on the cover, i didnt know that... :)
    make's me want to read noli again.... :)

    At Jun 23, 2007, 9:58:00 PM, Blogger -= dave =- said...

    There's also an ebook of the Noli and Fili in the Gutenberg Project site.

    What I'm interested in is to re-study the Fili in the context of today's post-9/11 world.

    At Oct 24, 2007, 5:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    tagalog plz

    At Oct 30, 2007, 3:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    pssst, anonymous!

    klasmeyt ba kita? why would you need tagalog version when you can translate? o baka naman tinatamad ka gusto mo lang copy/paste na lang

    At Aug 4, 2008, 5:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    very interesting. how i wish you can give us more...

    At Sep 11, 2008, 2:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    would somebody help me figuring out if the Noli me tangere was a bridge to the revolution?...thanks!

    At Jan 15, 2009, 6:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    thanks.. i'll use this one for my rizal homework.. and no worries.. i'll reference your site.. :) THANKS!

    At Jan 18, 2009, 3:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    i hate my rizal professor. he is trying very hard to speak in english but his english doesn't make any sense. he shoul resort to speaking in tagalog. he would be understood better. we won't have a hard time in trying to decipher what he is trying to explain. and, he too, would not have his tongue tied.

    At Jan 19, 2009, 4:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    at watson...

    that woman is not Dona Consolacion; she is known in the novel as the Alferez's concubine

    the woman you're talking about is Dona Victorina de los Reyes de de Espadana. Even before she got married, she is "beautiful" and spurned all of her Indio suitors. She planned to marry, and to marry the rich and powerful Castila. She is 35 yrs. old when she married Tiburcio.

    At Jan 22, 2009, 3:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    All of us Filipinos breezed through high school and college studied Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo that fueled this nation's people to rise in arms against the oppressive colonizers and obscurantist friars, plus the "elective" Life and Works of Jose Rizal in college (that not all Filipinos have the chance to experience should they ever graduate from high school)

    -> All Filipinos have experience studied Life of Jose Rizal even in college due to Rizal Law (R.A. 1425).

    At Aug 18, 2009, 5:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    it helps a lot..
    we have an activity about symbolism in the cover design of Rizal's First novel and i had a hard time finding it..
    thanks for the information..
    anyway, there are sunflowers and the burning torch,
    can you please explain what's the meaning of it?
    thank you..

    At Oct 8, 2009, 2:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    what is burning torch that under cover of noli me tangere?pls answer me

    At Feb 28, 2010, 3:56:00 PM, Anonymous chakra said...

    pde tagaLog...??

    At Mar 1, 2010, 3:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    chakra, spoonfeeding? maghirap ka naman para matuto

    At Mar 5, 2010, 8:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    your like ruined this thing.. all we need to have is just only the meaning of the symbols of the cover,, not an explanation that you need to got in the novle perse.
    naaaahhh... your so cruel.!dont like this stuff.

    At Mar 5, 2010, 5:30:00 PM, Blogger GingGoy said...

    anonymous, was it my fault? i did not shove it down your throat and didn't force you to come here...people :(

    At Jul 11, 2010, 10:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks! This helped me a lot! :) Now I have an idea na kung bakit "tabingi" daw ang title na "Noli me Tangere" sa cover... akala ko non, di lang siya magkakasya sa cover if it was written horizontally XD...

    At Aug 5, 2010, 11:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    wait, diba ang original manuscript is just one? how come it became so many?i dont understand..

    At Mar 10, 2011, 4:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The symbols are really just SOOO freaking BAD! XD

    At Sep 5, 2011, 9:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    oh yeah tnx for this info,.

    At Nov 27, 2011, 3:54:00 PM, Blogger Deejimon TV said...

    Thanks so much! :)

    At Dec 21, 2011, 12:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Can I also have the meaning of the original book cover of el filubusterismo and its picture?. Thank you so much.


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