Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
By Jose Rizal
Translated by Harold Augenbraum
Having been born in the Philippines but primarily raised in the States, I always felt I had given up my Filipino identity to fit in with the American ways.
I received a second dose of culture shock when my family moved back to the Philippines and I finished my high school years there. I had to relearn the language and make sense of all the unfamiliar customs and traditions. (Oh, and having to remember all the names of my relatives was an incredible feat of memory!) It was there I was first introduced to Jose Rizal and Noli Me Tangere.
Known as the great novel of the Philippines, “the Noli” is said to have sparked a whole revolution when it was published in the late 1800s. It was mandatory reading as a Junior in our Filipino class but we never really got more than a quarter through it. One of my uncles had a copy with both Tagalog and English text. And even then I had trouble fully comprehending it. When asked on a quiz what Noli Me Tangere translated to in Tagalog, I had written down “Huwag mo ko i-touch.” It was a very bad Taglish answer. The phrase is Latin which translated to English is “Touch Me Not” so one can see how I was having difficulty.
For our Senior Class field trip, we went to Rizal Park (or Luneta Park) where you can literally follow Jose Rizal’s footsteps leading to his execution, which was quite fitting considering I played him during one of our Linggo ng Wika (National Language Week) productions and that was the scene. Collapsing in front of a group of people was surprisingly something I found easy to do!
Having moved back to the States after graduating, I always wanted to learn more about my culture but I’ve only succeeded in finding Filipino restaurants in the cities where I lived. But I did also recently just learn to cook Filipino food.
I checked out the Noli from the library wanting to understand why this was considered to be the most important novel in Philippine literature. I definitely remembered some parts from my school days. I would end up borrowing and returning the book incessantly over the next five years. I would enjoy it and be bored out of my mind.
While I found the writing to be dry, there were some scenes that were just beautifully written. I was impressed by Jose Rizal’s ability to write over the top satirical characters and moments one second and then tragic and downright depressing the next to give readers a snapshot of what it was like in those days and why things had to change.
I probably wouldn’t read the sequel El Filibusterismo (“The Filibustering”) but I’m glad I read Noli Me Tangere. I saw how it could have awakened someone’s patriotism and I just love the fact that words can do that.
Here’s a summary of Noli Me Tangere:
In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, “The Noli,” as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.
(Apparently there is a Rizal Park in Seattle as well so maybe I’ll go check that out one of these days!)