Rizal’s a giant

RPJ is Rizal’s initials put in reverse out of his family’s fear that his body would be stolen by the Spaniards.

September 3, 2022

Historian Ambeth Ocampo has always maintained that our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal stood closer to 5’3” than the 4’11” he had been pictured to be for over a century now.

This week, Ocampo sought to provide proof other than his measurement of the still existing clothes vetted to have been worn by Rizal. It was literally, a “eureka!” moment, he wrote in a Facebook post on 1 August.

Ocampo said he was filing his scans of the hero’s manuscripts when he stumbled upon an entry in which Rizal wrote that at age 19 and four days, he stood at one meter and 61 centimeters or 5.28 feet.

There’s no doubting the handwriting to be Rizal’s as those manuscripts’ authenticity had been looked into by experts and, thus, bore the requisite markings like “Government Property.”

But did Rizal give his stature nearly a four-inch boost, at least on paper, through his quill? What’s the point of jotting his height at age 19? Was he taking supplementation with a growth elixir and was baselining data on his height?

Here are more questions. Would it be beyond Rizal to figure-pad? Or is it just another error in his writings, like some of the dates and other figures he had been found to have erred on? Rather, unlikely.

At any rate, only an exhumation of Rizal’s body could settle once and for all Rizal’s actual adult height through scientific, forensic science-aided measurements, like those done on Egypt’s mummified pharaohs like Tutankhamun.

Sacrilege? Not if one considers that the hero’s own mother, Doña Teodora Alonso, was known to have shown the skull of Rizal to some special visitors to their house to spice up her tales about her famous son.

Lolang’s show-and-tell at their house in Binondo happened after Rizal’s remains were dug up in 1898 from a grave marked only with RPJ at the Paco Cemetery and before they were interred at the Luneta at the base of his statue in 1912.

RPJ is Rizal’s initials put in reverse out of his family’s fear that his body would be stolen by the Spaniards, so the Katipuneros would not have a grave serving as a shrine for them to draw inspiration from.

Body parts of the hero, like a lock of hair, serving as amulets for Filipino revolutionaries? That must have been part of the considerations, we can surmise, why Rizal’s resting place immediately after his execution in 1896 was kept secret by his family.

But whether at 4’11” or close to 5’3,” Rizal would always be a giant of a man going by his contribution to the fight for freedom of Filipinos and his intellectual gifts to the world.

Still, going by what I remember of Rizal’s trousers on display at museums, I can’t stop imagining that a 5’3” Rizal wearing them would have the hemlines resting on his calves. Those clothes, as I remember them, were on the small side although they were behind glass cases and so beyond the reach of any perfunctory measurement.

What would those Rizal documents turn up next? His shoe size? Banish the thought, Kim Sancha.


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