10 Surprising Things You Probably Didn't Know About Jose Rizal

We all learned a lot about Jose Rizal in school. His life and works are well documented in books, photographs, letters, and other materials. But with all the available information about our national hero, can you proudly say that you know enough?

As Ambeth Ocampo, a reputable historian, once said: “Jose Rizal is everywhere yet he is nowhere.” He may have become a typical part of your daily life with his face embossed in the 1 peso coin and with several places in the country named after him, but there are still facts about Rizal that are not known to many.

There’s more to know about Jose Rizal than what you have learned in history class. To feed your curiosity, here are 10 astounding facts about our national hero that you probably didn’t know about.

Letter "K" to Philippine Orthography

1. He Introduced the Letter "K" to Philippine Orthography

Thanks to Rizal we don't write like this:

Masaquit ang ipin ng lalaqueng banquero habang cumacain ng ulam at canin. 

Jose Rizal promoted the use of the letter "K" to replace "C" and "Q" in Tagalog orthography (spelling system). Rizal found that this letter--which he adopted from the German spelling system--is crucial for the Tagalog language because the Spanish "C" and "Q" can create confusion. For instance, quinatay or "killed" may create confusion in its pronunciation. Soon enough, other members of the propaganda movement followed suit and was later on adopted by the Katipuneros who painted their flags with "K". Thanks to Rizal, it’s much easier to spell Tagalog words.

Dr. Jose Rizal was a Comic Artist

2. Lolo Jose was a Comic Artist

Many regard Jose Rizal as the Father of Philippine Komiks because of his several sketches that resemble the comic strip archetype.  This includes “The Monkey and the Turtle”, which is a popular fable he drew for Juan Luna's wife as a souvenir. “The Baptism of R. Pfeiffer at Holy Cross Steinach” was one that he drew to play with the kids of Pastore Ulmer, his landlord in Heidelberg, Germany. Another one is “The Cure of the Bewitched” which is a critical study on "kulam" or folk magic.

Rizal Monument

3. The Rizal Monument was a Subject of Criticism

Richard Kissling’s Motto Stella also known as the Rizal monument in Luna was once not widely accepted by Filipinos. When it was first unveiled to the public on December 30, 1913, local papers made fun of it because of its bland look. It was even made into a caricature to ridicule its dull appearance when compared to the grand-prize winning design by Carlo Nicoli. It only placed 2nd in the design competition intended for the creation of the monument.

Motto Stella
Hallucinogenic herbs - Over-the-counter medicine

4. Jose Rizal Used Marijuana

When he was 18 years old, Rizal took hashish, a drug made from cannabis or marijuana. His use of hashish, however, does not mean that he was a drug addict. During his time, hallucinogenic herbs like marijuana was used as an over-the-counter medicine.

Three Species named after Dr. Jose Rizal


5. Animal Species Were Named After Him

His free time while in exile at Dapitan afforded him the chance to collect unique species of animals. Three of his collections were later named after him: Rhacophorus Rizali (a toad), Draco Rizali (a flying lizard), and Apogonia Rizali (a small beetle).


Spinning Top - Sibylla Cumana

6. Rizal Developed a Board Game

Rizal serves as proof that a national hero also spends time for leisure and fun. While exiled in Dapitan, he developed a fortune-telling game called Haec Est Sibylla Cumana, or simply, “Sibylla Cumana”. It is named after a fortune teller in Greco-Roman mythology. The game consists of a spinning top and a booklet. It is played by choosing a question, then spinning the top to get a corresponding answer. The random answer can be quirky, funny, or even creepy. 

Sibylla Cumana or simply “Sibylla Cumana”

Sibylla Cumana or simply “Sibylla Cumana”

Sa Aking mga Kabata

7. There is No Proof that Rizal Wrote  “Sa Aking mga Kabata”

The oft-quoted line during Buwan ng Wika that says “Ang di magmahal sa sariling wika ay masahol pa sa hayop o malansang isda,” is not actually from Jose Rizal. Recent studies proved that there has never been solid evidence to confirm that Rizal wrote the poem. According to Ambeth Ocampo, there are three compelling reasons why it’s hard to believe he wrote the poem:

  1. There’s no original manuscript of the poem with Rizal’s own writing.
  2. The use of letter “K” for the word Kalayaan in the poem is anachronistic. Tagalog still used “C” and “Q” back in 1869 when Rizal allegedly wrote the poem. 
  3. The word “kalayaan” used twice in the poem is a neologism that Rizal only learned when he was 21 years old.

8. The Multilingual Rizal had Difficulty Writing in Tagalog

In a letter to his brother, Paciano Rizal, Jose Rizal said, “I’m forgetting Tagalog a little, as I don’t speak it with anyone.” He mentioned this because he was trying to translate Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell in Tagalog. Referring to his translation, Rizal told his brother: “... I’m aware of its many mistakes that I entrust to you and my brothers-in-law to correct. It is almost a literal translation. I’m forgetting Tagalog a little, as I don’t speak it with anyone.”

Chinese Temple

9. Evidence That Suggests Rizal’s Anti-Chinese Sentiments

Rizal’s El Filibusterismo is replete with negative depictions of Chinese men. He even dedicated a chapter about Quiroga, a shrewd Chinese businessman who was despised by his contemporaries. There’s also a scene in the novel when young idealist students poked fun of a Chinese peddler.  In his letters, Carlo Figueroa noted a line Rizal mentioned to her mother: "I vowed not to buy anymore from them (Chinese), so that sometimes I find myself very hard up. Now we have almost neither dishes nor tumblers." Despite this, his being a racist is still subject to debate.

Rizal was buried without a coffin

10. Jose Rizal’s Remains Were First Buried in Paco Cemetery Without a Coffin

When he died on December 30, 1896, Rizal’s corpse was immediately buried in Paco Cemetery without a tomb marker. The tomb was kept hidden from the family but it was eventually found by Narcisa, Rizal’s older sister. She made a marble slab with the inscription “R.P.J” as a marker. After waiting two years to be allowed to retrieve the body, they found out that Rizal was buried without a coffin.

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