Jose Protasio Rizal and Jomo Kenyatta Legacies Compared

Published on 8th July 2011

Dr. Jose Protasio Rizal   photo courtesy
On Monday the 20th of June, 2011, the Philippines’ celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of the nation’s founding icon, Dr. Jose Protasio Rizal. Referred to as a polymath, patriot and the Philippine’s most prominent advocate for reforms during the Spanish colonial era. He was named the Philippines’ national hero by the National Heroes Committee. Celebrations to mark Rizal's 150th birth anniversary were held across all Rizal shrines and museums throughout the country.

The Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost) has in on its part released new commemorative stamps and reprinting limited quantities of past Rizal stamps. The country’s central bank, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, also released a gold-plated bronze commemorative coin for the national hero designed and approved by Rizal's descendants and the numismatics society. A marker was also unveiled in Barcelona, Spain, and a travelling Rizal museum scheduled for the US and across Europe. The National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) has on their part been refurbishing the Luneta Park (also called Rizal Park) by sprucing up its gardens, repainting its statues and adding new facilities. Luneta Park, formerly Bagumbayan, is the spot where Rizal was executed by a firing squad on December 30, 1896 for opposing Spanish colonialism through his critical literary works. Several local groups equally prepared for the celebration of Rizal's birthday.

How can Dr. Rizal’s charisma compare with the founding scions of many African nations? This paper thus seeks to compare and contrast Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta with Dr. Rizal. This reflective paper is not exhaustive.

Both individuals were born in relatively good families; born in the late 1890s, Jomo Kenyatta belonged to a respectable family where his father was the chief of a small agricultural village in Gatundu Division, Kiambu District; one of five administrative districts in the Central Highlands of the then British East Africa. After the death of his father, Jomo, was adopted by his uncle Ngengi, the latter who also took over the chiefdom. Born on June 19, 1861, in the town of Calamba, Laguna, Rizal was the seventh child in a family of 11 children and where his family was able to support his education by sending him to notable institutions in Manila such as the acclaimed Ateneo de Manila and the University of Santo Tomas. In their own ways, both individuals had envisioned the value of acquiring formal education; Dr. Rizal’s academic acumen was manifest from a tender age. For instance, in 1877, at the age of 16, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Ateneo de Manila.

In the same year, he enrolled in Philosophy and Letters at the University of Santo Tomas while simultaneously taking courses leading to the degree of surveyor and expert assessor at Ateneo. He finished the latter course on March 21, 1877 and passed the Surveyor’s examination on May 21, 1878, but being of a minor age of 17, he was not granted a license to practice until December 30, 1881. In 1878, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Santo Tomas but had to stop his studies when he felt that the Filipino students were being discriminated upon by their Dominican tutors. On May 3, 1882, he sailed for Spain where he continued his studies at the Universidad Central de Madrid. On June 21, 1884, at the age of 23, he was conferred the degree of Licentiate in Medicine. Rizal continued his quest for the academe by studying further at the University of Paris and at the University of Heidelberg where he earned a second doctorate.

Jomo Kenyatta
In contrast, at the age of 10, Jomo was suffering from a jigger infection and was taken to the Church of Scotland mission hospital at Thogoto (about 12 miles north of the capital Nairobi), where surgery was successfully carried out on both feet and one leg. Jomo, then known as Kamau, was impressed by his first exposure to Europeans, and resolved to join the mission school. He ran away from home to become a resident pupil at the mission, studying amongst other subjects, the Bible, English, Mathematics, and carpentry. It is alleged that Jomo paid his school fees by working as a houseboy and cook for a nearby white settler.

In 1912, having completed his mission school education, Jomo became an apprentice carpenter. In August of 1914 he was baptized at the Church of Scotland mission, initially taking the name John Peter Kamau, but later changing it to Johnson Kamau. His ambitions saw him depart mission for Nairobi to seek employment, starting out as an apprentice carpenter on a sisal farm in the neighbouring urban enclave of Thika. Avoiding recruitment into the British army as World War 1 progressed, Jomo relocated to the distant town of Narok, living amongst the Maasai community, where he worked as a clerk for an Indian contractor. It was around this time that he took to wearing a traditional beaded belt known in Kikuyu dialect as 'Kenyatta.'

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By Satwinder Rehal
Associate Professor, De La Salle College of Saint Benilde,
Manila, The Philippines.

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