On my last trip to Manila, a friend gave me a book entitled Haec Est Sibylla Cumana or A Book of Oracles created in Dapitan by Jose Rizal. Here is the story on how this book came to be as gleaned from the publisher’s note and foreword written by Carmen Guerrero Cruz Nakpil and Serafin D. Quiason, Ph.D. respectively.
According to Nakpil, “In 1895, the year before he died, just before he left for Dapitan, for Cuba and the Spanish medical corps to which he volunteered – an act which he probably saw as an end to this exile and his return to Manila to continue the fight with Spain – he produced, in a burst of marvelous creativity, a whole new parlor game. It was a Spin-the-Top-and-Learn-Your-Future game, using a wooden top and a list of numbered questions and answers on popular, worldly matters like love, business and relationships.”
The book was handwritten in Spanish and drawn by Rizal during his exile in Dapitan in 1892-1896. He glued double layers of thin paper, recycled a used envelope for the cover and bound them together by hand. The envelope bares the New York City address of a machine shop and a sketch by Rizal of his family tree. He encased this book with its octagonal, hand-carved wooden top and a pen, which he had received as a literary award, in a finely crafted wooden box bearing his large initials on the top cover.
Dr. Quiason traces the history thus: “Rizal entrusted this book to his sister, Narcisa Rizal Lopez, when she visited him in Dapitan. She later bequeathed it to her son, Antonio Rizal Lopez, and his wife, Emiliana Rizal, the daughter of Jose Rizal’s only brother, Paciano. During the tumultuous Japanese occupation, Emiliana and her family fled to Los Banos, Laguna. They climbed Mt. Makiling on foot, carrying only their basic necessities and a few precious things, among them the Haec Est Sibylla Cumana. In spite of their haste, this book was carefully wrapped in a piece of greenish colored cloth. Along with its wooden top, it was encased in a large zippered leather portfolio and further placed inside a burlap sack. Emiliana handed this package over to her youngest son, Jose R. Lopez, to carry and care for during their precarious flight. When they reached the shore to board the banca to Cabuyao, they realized that the banca could not carry all of them. Jose and his cousin, being bachelors with no family to take care of, had to be left behind for one night. This was when Jose handed the book back to his mother. Years later, Emiliana entrusted this book to her eldest son, Francisco R. Lopez, for safekeeping. It has remained with the Paciano Rizal family all these years.”
In Greek mythology, a Sibyl was a prophetess who was believed to prognosticate the present and the future. Rizal’s oracle device had 52 questions, each with eight possible answers from Sibylla Cumana, which can be divined by spinning the top. For example, Question Number 1 asks, “What will my future be?” I spun the wooden top and it revealed Roman numeral I. I turned to the Table and Question 1 under I gave me the number 45. I went to answer number 45, and looked under I, and the answer is, “You can go far, very far.”
Dr. Quiason says that Sibylla Cumana “reveals the multifaceted aspects of Dr. Rizal’s personae, insightful wit, fine sense of humor, open-mindedness, unusual psychic sensitivity, astonishing command of Tagalog, Latin, Greek, German, English, French and Spanish.” Carmen Nakpil on the other hand, ends her foreword with this thought: “Maybe with this final gesture, Rizal was telling us not to be afraid of the future, and was wishing us joy, a light heart, and companionable group fun.”
For more than a century, this unpublished work of Dr. Jose Rizal, didn’t come to light until it was published in 2011, the 150th Rizal Birth Anniversary.
There are still copies available for sale. Please contact Cruz Publishing, 1006, Tower One and Exchange Plaza, Ayala Avenue, Makati City, Philippines. Tel.: (632) 891-1945. E-mail: email@example.com