Who was Dr. Antonio de Morga? He was a soldier and a lawyer, an explosive combination, especially if one was also a high-ranking colonial bureaucrat. Antonio de Morga Sanchez Garay was born in 1559 in Sevilla, Spain, 38 years after Magellan was killed by Lapulapu and his men for meddling in the internal affairs of the rajahs and datus of Cebu. During the most productive 40 years of his life, Morga was sent to the most significant outposts of the Spanish overseas empire: He served the Vice-Royalty (Virreinato) of Nueva España (Mexico), the Vice-Royalty of Peru and across the Pacific at the gateway to Asia, the Captaincy-General (Capitanía General ) of the Philippines.
In the Philippine colony, Dr. de Morga was a fearsome oidor, that is, a judge of the Royal Audiencia, the appellate court which also kept an eye on the Governor-General and the colony’s coffers. In 1609, his book , Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, was published in Mexico where he returned after a polemical term of office in the Philippines. Although the Sucesos saw light almost half a century after Spain had staked its claim over this archipelago, Jose Rizal considered it an invaluable historical source because it was the earliest written by a layman. As you know, most of the accounts of the conquest and colonization were written by friars of the religious orders who came with the conquistadores. Although most of them were assiduous scholarly researchers who studied even the flora and fauna, the religious nature of their mission clouded their vision. They wrote disparagingly about the lifestyle, cultures, spiritual beliefs and sacred rituals of our ancestors.
Rizal was not the only one who saw the value of Morga’s work. Lord Henry E.J.S Stanley translated it in English for the Hakluyt Society of London, (named after Richard Hakluyt) an esoteric group of history buffs and geographers who published accounts of noteworthy voyages and “discoveries” that encouraged conquest and colonization. Rizal’s friend and indefatigable pen pal, Prof. Ferdinand Blumentritt, once suggested that he write a Philippine history book, but Rizal felt he neither had the time nor the energy, much less a wide knowledge of our past, so the next best thing was to annotate Morga’s Sucesos. The British Museum where he found Morga’s book had an extensive collection of what we now refer to as Filipiniana, so Rizal was in his element! He copied Morga’s book by hand as he was annotating it.
In 1890, in Paris, the book was published with this title: Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas por el Dr. Antonio de Morga, obra publicada en Méjico el Año de 1609, nuevamente sacada a luz y anotada por José Rizal “ (… published in Mexico in 1609, brought to light once again and annotated by José Rizal). The title page also mentioned the prologue by Prof. Fernando Blumentritt.
Rizal dedicated this annotated Morga– Á los Filipinos—to all of us. He said that in the Noli Me Tangere (1887) he began to depict the actual state of our country and the effect that the novel had made him realize that before continuing the Noli narrative, he had to delve into our past to better judge the present and to measure the path ( i.e. progress) we have taken during the past three centuries.
Rizal admitted that he grew up without knowing much about our Yesterday (Ayer), like most Filipinos. He could not write with authority about things he never saw nor studied, so he was compelled to invoke the testimonies of an “illustrious Spaniard who ruled the destiny of the Philippines at the start of its new era and who witnessed the last moments of our ancient nationality.” Morga’s book shows the “shadow of the civilization of our forbears” and he, Rizal, faithfully transmits the words of Morga, editing only the punctuations of the original , modernizing the spelling for easy reading.
He added that if Morga’s book with his annotations should succeed to make us more aware of the past that has been erased from our memory, rectifying what has been distorted and denigrated, then he would not have worked in vain. With this as a humble foundation, Rizal said, we Filipinos can dedicate ourselves to charting our future, studying what should be done.
An annotation that struck me: Rizal’s footnote (1), of the “Report of the voyage of Adelantado Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira on the discovery of Salomon island”which Morga included in the book.
After praising how good-looking, well-built, friendly and hospitable the natives were, after describing how excited they were when cheap giveaways were distributed among them, the Adelantado accused them of stealing things from the boat and started to drive them ashore. The natives were confused, started to throw stones at the Spaniard, so the latter shot the natives with their arquebuses, killing about 5 or 6 of them. Rizal wrote: Death has always been the first sign of European civilization as it presented itself in the Pacific, and God-willing, it will not be the last sign. But, judging from statistics the Pacific islands that were “civilized” became terribly de-populated…The first deed of Magellan himself when he arrived at the Marianas was to burn more than 40 houses, vessels and killing 7 inhabitants for stealing one of their small boats. The natives saw nothing wrong with that, like the “civilized “ones find nothing wrong in fishing, hunting and subjugating people who are weaker and poorly armed. (more)