of the Collections for Research into Sudeten German Minority









Szentendre/Hungary, 2006.

HU ISSN 1788-0971






Dr. Lea-Katharina Steller:

Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)




(Lecture on the conference of the Philippine Embassy

Budapest, 19 May 2000)*





Some years ago I have found an interesting book in the Eastern Collection of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. This book - the work of Professor Harry Sichrovsky, who is in charge of the South-Eastern Asian and Chinese affairs in the Ludwig Boltzmann Instute in Austria, a country neighbouring Hungary - was the biography of Ferdinand Blumentritt, with the subtitle: "An Austrian Life for the Philippines". The volume, published in Manila in 1987, was written in a very readable, popular form, and it fills a lacuna in the literature of the history of Philippines. I only had a problem with the title of the work, because the hero of the work, Ferdinand Blumentritt, was not Austrian at all.


For the sake of security I got the original edition: Der Revolutionär von Leitmeritz. Ferdinand Blumentritt und der philippinische Freiheitskampf. (The Revolutionary from Leitmeritz. Ferdinand Blumentritt and the War of Independence of the Philippines). This is nearer to the truth. Leitmeritz is a small German town in the so-called Sudetenland, in Bohemia, which was then part of the Hapsburg Empire together with Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The beautiful German river, the Elbe flows across Leitmeritz (today in Litomerice, Czech Republic), which had 20,000 inhabitants then - a city


of merchants, soldiers and clerks, a typical European bürgerstadt, and a Catholic episcopal seat. The city, with its city status dating back to 1227,  is surrounded by a hilly woodland, has a strong Catholic spirit and was always open to Catholic immigrants from all parts of the world. One of the famous sons of Leitmeritz is Ottavio Broggio, the famous Baroque architect, who designed the episcopal cathedral of the town, devoted to the martyr St. Stephen. The city provided new home for the famous Spanish family of colonizers, the Alcarazes, who had been exiled from Manila in 1773 together with the Jesuits. The daughter of the family, a Mediterran beauty, Dolores de Alcaraz was married to Franz Blumentritt, a member of a distinguished family, who came from the banks of the Lake Boden, Switzerland. One of the ancestors of Franz Blumentritt fought against the Ottoman Turks, and took part in the famous 1686 siege of Buda (the historical capital of Hungary). This ancestor was rewarded by the Hapsburg Emperor with estates for his valor. Dolores and Franz had several children, and for some years my great-great grandfather (their nephew) lived with them too, after his father died of cholera. He later Hungarianized his family name to Virághalmy. Considering the atmosphere of the age the sons received an open-minded education, based on accomodation, in accord with the Jesuit pedagogical ideal. The family homes in Leitmeritz and Prague, full of valuable relics from the Philippine tribes and the history of Spanish colonization in the Philippines, had a deep impact on the sons and on my great-great grandfather, who later published several anonymous articles about South-Eastern Asia in Hungarian in the Vasárnapi Újság (Hungarian Sunday News). Only Ferdinand, the grandson of Dolores de Alcaraz committed his whole life to the Philippines.


After getting an M. A. of History and Geography on the Charles University of Prague, Ferdinand Blumentritt became a teacher, and in 1900 he was appointed as headmaster of a high school in Leitmeritz. He had two aims in life: the coordinating of the research and interest toward the Philippines - which had been emerged in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century -, and the patriotic rearing of the youth of his city and its surroundings.



It is a legitimate question to ask what did the Germans have to do with this area in the 19th century? For the Philippines was a Spanish colony, Malaysia was British, and Indonesia was a Dutch one. Yet we can read in a letter by José Rizal sent to Blumentritt in 1887: "Finden Sie nicht - sagte ich /Rizal/ meinem Landsmann - daß es ein wenig traurig ist, diese uns betreffenden Kenntnisse vom Auslande zu erhalten? - Ja, Dank den deutschen Gelehrten bekommen wir einige genaue Nachricht über unser Volk, und wenn alles zu Hause zerstört sein wird, müssen wir nach Deutschland herschiffen um die Museen zu besehen, um die deutschen Bücher zu durchblättern: das ist traurig, aber es muß so sein." (Don't you deem it a little sad - I /Rizal/ have said one of my fellow citizens - that we got the information concerning us from abroad? Yes, due to the German scholars, we have precise knowledge abour our own nation, and if all had been destroyed at home, then we would have to sail to Germany, to look the German museums and to turn over the pages of the German books. This is a sad truth, but this is a fact.) Yet these researches had no connection with the colonial politics of Imperial Germany and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. This fact is testified by Rudolf Virchow, the famous anhropologist, pathologist and historian of pharmacology of Pomeranian origin, the teacher of Dr Rizal, who, as a liberal representative of the Reichstag, voted and protested on several occasions against the German colonial plans. Blumentritt, who respected Virchow as his mentor, acknowledged this in a letter in 1889: "...aber jenen, die, nur weil sie hörten, daß ich ein Deutscher bin, glauben, daß ich ein deutscher Untertan bin, und deshalb ein Agent Bismarcks - denen sollte ich eine Lektion in Geographie geben... Liebe Freunde: die Deutschen bewohnen nicht nur den größten Teil von Deutschland mit 42 Millionen Menschen, sondern auch ein Drittel der Schweiz, das gesamte Luxembourg, ländliche Gebiete Hollands, die preußischen Städte im Baltikum etc. Von den 38 Millionen Einwohnern von Österreich-Ungarn sind 10 Millionen Deutsche. Ich bin solch ein Österreich-Deutscher..." (But for those who, when they hear that I am a German, believe that I am a German citizen, and because of it, I'm an agent of Bismarck, I must held a lecture of geography. My dear friends, the Germans inhabit not only the greater part of Germany, forming a mass of 42 million people, but they are the inhabitants of one-third of Switzerland, of the whole of Luxembourg, of the Dutch countryside, not to mention the Prussian citizens of the Baltic countries, etc., and they amount to 10 million of the 38 million inhabitants of Austria-Hungary. And I belong to this group of Germans: to the Austrian Germans.)



Thus the German scholars' interest in orientalism can be explained not by imperialistic political attitudes, but by the development of comparative historical linguistics. Besides Franz Bopp and Jacob Grimm I think above all of Wilhelm von Humboldt, who sucessfully applied the methods developed by his forerunners to the research of the Malay-Polynesian languages. Of course, Blumentritt too could not avoid the impact of the world of ideas of Humboldt, the sources of which had been the German romantics, Herder, Kant and Hegel. The first serious linguistical work by Blumentritt was published in 1882, under the title  Vocabular einzelner Ausdrücke und Redensarten, welche dem Spanischen der philippinischen Inseln eigenthümlich sind (The vocabulary of some peculiar Philippine Spanish expressions and idioms). During the writing of his work Blumentritt established connections with Dr. Hendrik Kern, an indologist, who led Indonesian studies at the University of Leiden, Professor Georg Alexander Wilken, who was the director of the Library of Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology at Leiden, and Hans Georg Conon von der Gabelentz, who was at this time the Professor of Eastern Asian Linguistics in Leipzig. He got further help in his work from Pardo de Tavera, who was related to the Mexican Cardinal of the same name, and from Mr. Labhart-Lutz, the Manilan Ambassador of Austria-Hungary. Thus Blumentritt could publish a sequel to his book in 1885.


After finishing the vocabulary, Blumentritt got some interesting manuscripts from Manila. One of them was a Catholic Catechism written in an ancestral aboriginal language, used by Spanish Franciscans. This was translated by Blumentritt to the somewhat more modern Ilongota language. At this time began he his conversations and correspondence with Hugo Schuchardt, whose later Wörter und Sachen (Words and Things) method of linguistics began to take shape about this time. The essence of this method was that when trying to understand the migration of loanwords it is not enough to rely only on the phonetical laws existing and working in the given age, and perhaps on the meaning of the words themselves, but we must examine the "things and objects" denoted by the


words too. Of course we must also take in account the facts of the cultural histor. (It should be noted that a similar linguistic theory was elaborated by P. Heras SJ, a Professor of the Ateneo in Manila.) The legacy of Hugo Schuchardt was elaborated by one of my colleagues in Graz, thus the Blumentritt-Schuchardt correspondence is accessible to the research.


Encouraged by his friends, the young geographer Hans Meyer (who was the first to reach the summit of the Kilimanjaro in 1889) and his father, Herman Julius Meyer, the owner of the Bibliographical Institute in Hildburghausen (the publishing house which publishes the famous Meyer Lexicon), Blumentritt compiled the several volumes of Bibliotheca Philippina. This bibliography, striving for completeness, contains all the linguistic, geographical, ethnographical, historical and scientific books and manuscripts on the Philippines. After Blumentritt published his work, Fedor Jagor, an ehtnographer of Russian origin and the director of the Ethnographical Collection of the Berlin University, immediately congratulated him.


His colleagues, the geographers also took note of Blumentritt. His Versuch einer Ethnographie der Philippinen (An Attempt of an Ethnography of the Philippines), published in Petermanns Mittheilungen, is not only a basic textbook of ethnography of the area, but one of geography too. He got many orders for various essays, for example Die Goldfundstellen auf den Philippinen und ihre Ausbeutung (The Goldmines of the Philippines and their exploitation), or Die Erdbeben des Juli 1880 auf den Philippinen (The Earthquake of July 1880 on the Philippines). The collaborators were Vincenz Haardt von Hartenthurn of Wien, and Alexander Schadenberg, a chemist from Breslau, who later worked in Manila. Shortly afterwards Ferdinand Blumentritt became a member of the "Militärwissenschaftlicher Verein in Theresienstadt" too. He had to contribute to several military subjects, for example in an article he wrote for The Washington Sentinel in 1900. In this article he argued against the American annexation of the Philippines, on the basis of military considerations: "...In the Philippines, however, the natives are used to the obligatory service. So if the Filipinos adopt the military organization


which is called Landwehr in Austria and Hanved in Hungary, they can form a permanent army of 12,000 to 18,000 soldiers in time of peace, and in time of war there will be in their ranks an army of 150,000 to 200,000 valiant, sober and cheap soldiers. The United States may dispose of this army in any conflict arising in the extreme Orient. Let the Americans compare this situation with that created by the annexation. If they annex the country they have to maintain a great army of volunteers wich will be very expensive and which, because of the effects of the climate, will not be able to render as many services as in their own country. In case of war this expensive army will not be able to fight against the enemy, because its forces will be necessary to stifle or to prevent revolution in the Philippines."


Yet Ferdinand Blumentritt was fundamentally a historian. His two interesting works, considered as fundamental works in the history of the Philippines, are the Holländische Angriffe auf die Philippinen im XVI., XVII. und XVIII. Jahrhunderte (Dutch Assaults on the Philippines in 16th, 17th and 18th centuries) and the Die Chinesen auf den Philippinen (The Chinese in the Philippines). According to my view, his Spanish mythological vocabulary also belongs to this category, regarding its many historical allusions. His work had a great influence among the Jesuits.


Harry Sichrovsky limits his book about Ferdinand Blumentritt on his acquaintance and later friendship with José Rizal. José Rizal got acquainted with Blumentritt in July 1886. Blumentritt supported him in every matter, his house was always open before the young man of mixed heritage. His deep friendship could last only for ten years. José Rizal, who had returned to his homeland, wrote the last letter to Blumentritt on 29th december 1896: "Prof. Fernando Blumentritt - My dear Brother, when you receive this letter, I shall be dead by then. Tomorrow at 7, I shall be shot; but I am innocent of the crime of rebellion."



Blumentritt never recovered from the experience of the execution of his best friend. As the intellectual leader of a Sudeten German city, he was a genuine liberal, who opposed colonialism, a Catholic with a reforming tendency, who was very far from racism. As a Sudeten German, he regarded the "indio" Rizal as a human being, as anybody else. According to contemporary historians of ideas the national liberalism of the 19th century was near to an elitist conception of human equality, which was limited to a narrow elite. Indeed Blumentritt held the Philippinos immature and not ready for independence (after their oppression for hundreds of years), but he believed that everybody should get a chance for education - and if he was talented, it was the interest of the state, of the community, of the nation to ensure him work and living space, so he would be then useful for his homeland. The country, which doesn't do this, is - according to Blumentritt - unworthy of independence. He proclaimed and taught this message as a headmaster, as the knight of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, as the member of the Geographical Society of Madrid and Vienna, as a honorary member of the Indochina Academy of Paris and of scientific research societies in Amsterdam, Lima, Tokyo and Berlin. He died in 1913.




* English translation revised by Anita Dranka










Series of the Collections for Research into Sudeten German Minority

(Ed. Dr. Lea-Katharina STELLER. Szentendre/Hungary, HU ISSN 1788-0971)

I. (2006) pp.3-9: Dr. Lea-Katharina STELLER: Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)






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Collections for Research into Sudeten German Minority