Destitution As Reflected In Rizal’s “Touch Me Not” And Comparison with Haiti

Destitution implies absolute impoverishment or poverty. Materially, it refers to economic deprivation of basic human needs, such as food, shelter, education and personal safety. The repercussion causes extreme physical trauma and has serious effect on mental health, such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, memory impairment, subject to abuses and violence, vulnerability to prostitution and suicide. Images of destitution, whether material or mental, are easily identified with the description of abandonment and hopelessness suffered by Sisa in the opening chapters of “A mother’s Tale” (Chapter 21), and the atrocities inflicted upon her by Dona Consolacion (Chapter 38).

These two chapters were the most emotive and tempestuous description of life and fate of Sisa in a feudal colony. She was the symbolism of motherhood in suffering and the epitome of native feminine oppression selected by the narrator. Rizal clearly differentiated the poor and the rich feminine characters in his book about “social cancer”.
Tortured by abandonment by her society, and in her angst of fear and hopelessness, she ran home in mad pursuit of her two missing children, who were falsely accused of stealing from the church. The mother’s predicament was described as “dark nights of a raging storm”. Forced by social circumstances, she became insane. The “untouchable” with reality provided insight into the decadence of society, and the urgent need for reform. The images of destitution represented resonated with existing social conditions under a feudal colonial system.

The destitution was caused by three major factors. Dona Consolacion atrocities on Sisa evoked strong image representation of the cruelties of Spanish civil services, comparable to her “limply whipping the madwoman’s naked feet”. The outpouring of verbal, physical and financial abuses on the symbolic native was indicative of a woman without love in her relationship. It showed “poor humanity”, with “Christ who shed blood for the sins of others” (page 196). The exploitation and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church was another major reason for such destitution. In the procession outlined in “Morning”, the patron saint in the fictitious town of San Diego contrasted sharply with St. Francis, in the measure of peoples’ expectation and those in authority. The friars were “holy orators”, and the monasteries were trading in disposable shrouds as “religious relic (page 195) to the naïve natives. Captain Tiago symbolized the comprador or middle merchant in their exploitation. The fund for education, infrastructure and social community work was wasted in expensive fiesta celebrations.

The Philippines shared these images of material and mental destitution with Haiti. They were both under colonial rule about three centuries ago. Haiti was ruled by the Spanish, French and the United States; whereas the Philippines by the Spanish and the United States. Co-incidentally, both countries had double independence, and were ruled by their local despots or dictators. Before the arrival of colonial power, both countries had their own ancestral religion or local belief; the Haitians, voodoo; the Filipinos, tribal rituals and pagan magic, with a small percentage of Muslims .Both population were converted to Christianity, mainly Roman Catholic in their similar percentage in population size, except the latter was about eight to ten times more .In their earlier centuries, both countries were relatively rich, compared with their neighbouring countries. Haiti was exported 60% coffee and 40% sugar to the West; whereas the Philippines, with rich fertile land and marine life, were exporting rice, tobacco, spices and agricultural products, and was richer than Taiwan then. Both countries suffered from repeated natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons and cyclone, inflicting basic material lost and grievances in death of relatives and adequate housing and medical care. The similarities extended to wide spread corruption, inequality, injustices, crimes, and varied manifestation of greed by their respective ruling class.

Despite their many similarities, the Philippines hold a better future than Haiti. The unemployment rate in the former is 7% compared with more than 40% in the latter. Moreover, seven million Filipinos remitted home a total of 22 US billion, which was 14 % of their national GDP. In the first quarter of 2013, Philippine growth rate was predicted to be 7.8%. The differences were in their level of education, especially in English, and the willingness of their females to work in any occupational work categories. The Haitians spoke French and Creole, with limited countries to travel. In 2008, Washington Post reported they remitted US 1.9 billion, about 25 % of their GDP, but in the recent earthquake, remittance was difficult because of breakdown of their economic conduit, and recovery was slow.

In his authorial clarification, Rizal wrote things as yet unwritten, and therefore “untouchable”. He hoped his narration, with powerful literary images and iconography would find resonance with a later generation, not in tune with his time. His symbolic representation might also find resonance with the Haitians, or elsewhere.

(797 words)


1. Burnett, John. Mental Health destitution and asylum, PAFRAS Papers, 2008—mental-health-destitution-and-asylum.pdf cited 18-07-2013
2. Israel, Tony (2010). Haiti and the Philippines: Cursed by the Gods? haiti-and-the-philippines-cursed-by-the-godhaiti-and-the-philippines-cursed-by-the-god
Cited 21-07-2013
3. Rhett, A.Butler, cited 21-07-2013
4.Sichrovsky,Hary (1983-87). Ferdinand Blumentritt,An Australian Life For The Philippine: Noli Me Tangere 21-07-2013
5. Lily B. Libo-on (2013).Khaleej Times. Overseas Filipinos remit $22 billion to families cited 21-07-2013 Comparison between Philippine and Haiti cited 21-07-2013
7.Rizal,Jose.Noli Me TangereTranslated by Harold Augenbraun(2006)Penguin Classics

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