Revenge of the Tinola
TABLE PROTOCOL AND SOUP IN RIZAL’S NOLI ME TANGERE
The Noli Me Tangere written by Jose Rizal and first published in 1887, is indisputably the greatest Filipino novel to date. Even as it was written in Spanish and therefore addressed to only a few, it changed the consciousness of the Filipino and eventually led to the founding of a nation. It continues to provide Filipinos with insights into who we are as a people. Rizal took every opportunity his novel provided to reveal the colonial situation—including a formal dinner.
In Chapter Three of the Noli, titled “The Dinner”, Ibarra has just arrived from Spain and Capitan Tiago has honored him with a dinner at his home. The guest list includes the Franciscan priest Padre Damaso and the Dominican Padre Sibyla, Dr. de Espadaña, Doña Victorina, the Teniente, Señor Laruja, and a blond young man who is never named. Maria Clara, Capitan Tiago’s daughter and Ibarra’s beloved, and the new parish priest have also been invited to the dinner but have not yet arrived. Dinner is about to be served so the guests proceed to seat themselves at a long rectangular table for ten people. Capitan Tiago may have invited more guests than there are seats but how have his guests managed to exclude him from his own table? Unlike the round table, the rectangular table is not a democratic space. Protocol suggests that the cabecera or head of the table be reserved for the male host at one end and the most important guest at the other. Padres Damaso and Sibyla argue over who should sit at the head of the table. They are, after all, members of the church hierarchy. Padre Damaso grudgingly gives way to Padre Sibyla who, after all, is the parish priest of the district. The Teniente, as the highest government official, seats himself at the other end and, to quote from Rizal himself, “to escape the ordeal of sitting between the two friars”. The guest of honor, Ibarra, sits to the right of the host, Capitan Tiago, whose seat has been usurped by Padre Sibyla, clearly a reference to the power of the clergy over the civilian government. The seat in front of Ibarra is reserved for his dinner partner Maria Clara who has yet to arrive and who also, as her father’s hostess, sits to his left. It would be proper for Padre Damaso to sit beside Ibarra, but the two are at odds, so he will probably sit as far away as possible from Ibarra, probably beside Doña Victorina, with whom he finds some affinity. Being the only other woman at the table, Doña Victorina sits to the Teniente’s right and her dinner partner, Dr. De Españada, to his left. The new parish priest would have sat beside Maria Clara and beside him the blond young man. Señor Laruja would be seated beside Ibarra, being of the same age and stature. The host, who simply looks on as the guests freely take their places, is left without a place to sit. “But all the seats were already taken: Lucullus was not dining at home with Lucullus”. The irony of this whole situation is not lost on the reader. Rizal has created an allegory of the Philippine situation with the Spanish clergy and militia taking over the country and leaving its rightful ruler(s) out of the equation. Rizal does not stop here and extends the allegory.
Ibarra takes his leave of the dinner after he is insulted by Padre Damaso but not before tinola, the main course, is served. Tinola is a simple, everyday Filipino dish and most inappropriate for a formal dinner. Best for this soup are free-range chickens, the meat of which tends to be hard, sili or malunggay leaves and sayote or young papaya picked fresh from the backyard garden, and only ginger to give it flavor. But this soup is Ibarra’s (and Rizal’s) favourite and one he missed while abroad. “Don’t move! Don’t get up!” said Capitan Tiago, placing his hand on Ibarra’s shoulder. “This feast is in thanksgiving to the Virgin for your arrival. Oh let them bring in the tinola. I had it made for you because you have not tasted it for a long time.” The tinola is served in a huge tureen, giving it much importance. Padre Sibyla, because he sits in the host’s chair, has the honor of serving the guests. Ibarra, as guest of honor, gets the choice bits while Padre Damaso is left with the neck and a hard wing, a grave insult to the arrogant Franciscan friar. Rizal makes quite a pointed statement in this scene. The very simple Filipino tinola is favored over the rich Spanish food and points to a desire for self-rule. It makes up for the usurpation of Capitan Tiago’s place at his own table and is a clear indictment of the much-despised Spanish clergy.
The chapter ends with Maria Clara a no-show and the blond young man returning to his room and “writing, among other things, the next chapter of his “Colonial Studies:” ‘On how a chicken wing and neck in a friar’s dish of tinola can disturb the joy of a feast.’” Among his observations were these: “In the Philippines the most useless person in a supper or feast is the one giving it: to begin with, the master of the house can be thrown out into the street and everything will proceed as usual. In the actual state of things it is almost for the good of the Filipinos not to be allowed to leave the country or to be taught to read...”
Written by Carla M. Pacis
Illustration By Nonie Cruzado