Rizal’s Noli and Fili: Mirror of the 19th Century Philippine Economy

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The Philippine Historical Association
National Historical Commission of the Philippines
UST College of Education


Rizal’s Noli and Fili: 
Mirror of the 19th Century Philippine Economy
A lecture in celebration of the National Heroes Day

August 24, 2011, 9:00 a.m.
Tan Yan Kee Auditorium
Tan Yan Kee Building
University of Santo Tomas


  Ms. Venice Picadizo
Coordinator, History Department
UST College of Education

National Anthem

Opening Remarks
Prof. Evelyn A. Songco
President, Philippine Historical Association

Rizal’s Noli and Fili:Mirror of the 19th Century Philippine Economy
Dr. Celestina P. Boncan
Immediate Past President, PHA
University of the Philippines Manila

Open Forum

Closing Remarks
Prof. Clotilde N. Arcangel
Dean, UST College of Education

Master of Ceremonies: 
Mr. Jonathan Balsamo 
Heroes Square Heritage Corporation


Rizal’s Noli and Fili: Mirror of 19th Century

Philippine Economic Conditions

Celestina P. Boncan, Ph.D.

University of the Philippines Manila

PHA President 2006-2008

A noted Filipino writer once said that Rizal used numerous appellations to the gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus in describing the characters in the Noli Me Tangere and the El Filibusterismo.1 Crisostomo Ibarra called Maria Clara as Chloe when he placed on her head a garland of orange leaves and blossoms. As if to denote her hideous countenance, Donya Consolacion was Medusa, a woman monster with wings and snaky hair. Ibarra himself, for donating a schoolhouse to the town of San Diego, was “a devotee of Minerva” (the goddess of wisdom). According to the author, the allusions from Greek and Roman mythology were no doubt due to Rizal’s classical education.

In his dedication to the Noli and the Fili, Rizal referred to a grave illness --- a disease of so malignant a character that the least touch irritates it and awakens in it the sharpest pains (sakit na mayroong mga mapaminsalang galamay na lumilikha ng malaking kasiraan sa katawan bago pa makaramdam ng sakit ay talamak na sa katawan). And yet, Rizal says, “no one has dared to dissect this disease of society for fear that they would come to trouble” (walang makapangahas na sumalang sa sakit ng lipunan noon dahil sa takot na sila ay mapahamak).

While the Noli and the Fili epitomized Rizal’s social criticism of 19th century Philippines, the two novels reveal in economic terms this disease that the Motherland (Inang Bayan) suffered from. The 19th century saw numerous economic developments that Rizal in particular alluded to in his essay Filipinas dentro de cien años. In fact, these economic changes greatly changed the face of colonial society in the Philippines and exacerbated the “illness” which for centuries before existed into the “cancer” that it had become in the 19th century.

Rizal realistically depicted prevailing economic conditions 19th century Philippines through his portrayals of different characters in the Noli and the Fili as well as the choice of certain selected places from where the different sub-plots take place. Thus, characters like Crisostomo Ibarra, Elias, Capitan Tiago in the Noli and Kabesang Tales, Quiroga and even Mr. Leeds in the Fili denote key economic developments happening in the Philippines in the 19th century.

Through these portrayals Rizal showed the depth of his understanding of the economic travails that the Philippines suffered from and contributed to the “cancer” of his time. This is quite notable in that Rizal wrote much, if not all, of the novels’ chapters while he was away from the Philippines ---- as he was in Europe, steeped in medical studies and travels to various European cities.

1 Armando J. Malay. “Mythology in Rizal’s Novels” in Historical Bulletin Vol. V, December 1961, Nos. 1-4

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