The Significance of “Ninay”, the First Filipino Novel


You might think the first Filipino novel is Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” but it’s not: it’s Don Padre Paterno’s “Ninay.” Scholar Rizal confessed that he had long been looking for a copy of Paterno’s book, which was published in Madrid in 1885 while the “Noli” came out two years later, in Berlin in 1887.

“In my decades of collecting rare Filipiniana, ‘Ninay’ has always eluded me and I have always wanted a copy as a historical curiosity,” Ocampo wrote.

“La Antigua Civilización Tagalog” and “Ninay”, both by Don Pedro Paterno, are the first Filipino history book written by a Filipino and the first Filipino novel, respectively.

Who is Nina?

Paterno’s novel tells the love story between Ninay, or Antonina Milo y Buisan, a wealthy heiress, and Carlos Mabagsic, a man wrongly accused of rebellion. Paterno contrasted their romance with the Catholic ritual of “pasiyam,” the nine-day novena for recently deceased people. After suffering from cholera, Ninay passed away heartbroken following her separation from her beloved Carlos.

Arguably, Paterno’s novel offers the first example of female empowerment in Filipino literature. “Ninay is a capable and shrewd girl from a wealthy and cultured family, just like the Paternos who were dominated by strong women,” explains Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of the León gallery. “Rizal’s novel, on the other hand, portrays the Filipino woman as ‘Maria Clara’, which to this day is the cliché of the submissive woman. In contrast, Rizal’s main characters were all male like Ibarra, Elias and later Simon.

After studying the novel, Jean Marie Yap Paterno and Miguel Roces Paterno, in their book “By Their Deeds: The Paternos of the Spanish Erasays the author of ‘Ninay’ who was inspired by the experiences of the very wealthy and influential Paterno family – their way of life, their ways of doing business, even in the houses they built and lived in. . Clearly, Pedro Paterno believed in the oft-repeated advice to writers: “Write what you know.”

The Antigua Civilization Tagalog
La Antigua Civilización Tagalog was important to Don Pedro Paterno since he was a direct descendant of Rajah Soliman. The title page shows Paterno’s coat of arms which he designed.

Xiao Chua describes Pedro Paterno as “a renaissance man, just like Rizal after him – a poet, scholar, lawyer and activist who knows the ins and outs of cosmopolitan Spanish society”. Commenting on “Ninay,” Chua says that while the book gently criticizes the Spanish regime, it is strong in its romantic depiction of Filipino life.

There is also no shortage of “twists that led to the personal tragedies of the protagonists” and which seem “a harbinger of the many deaths that have also occurred in Rizal’s story”. obstructionism and reflecting the many Filipino soap operas of the TV and Netflix era.

Being the first Filipino novel, it is fair but natural that it has attracted scholars to consider its importance. Adam Lifshey of Georgetown University calls it a “historical text”, being “the first or earliest Asian novel written in Spanish”.

The novel “opened the way to ‘Noli’ by initiating the novelas a safe literary medium to open a window on a colonial society,” wrote Dr. Portia Reyes, author of Panahon at Pagsasalaysay ni Pedro Paterno, 1858-1911: Isang Pag-aaral sa Intelektwalismo.

Meanwhile, according to Atty. Dominador Buhain in his A history of publishing in the Philippines—“Being the first Filipino novel, ‘Ninay’ marked the beginning of the awakening of national consciousness among the Filipino intelligentsia.”

“The novel is not to my liking, and I imagine that after reading it, Rizal wasted no time criticizing it,” Ocampo wrote on his Facebook timeline. “Instead, Rizal decided to show Paterno what a novel is and wrote the ‘Noli.’ We could then say that the ‘Ninay’ of Paterno inspired the ‘Noli’ of Rizal.

Paintings and objects from the collection of Don Pedro Paterno
Paintings and objects from Don Pedro Paterno’s collection appear in this image of the Philippine Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Galerie Léon

At auction

“Ninay” is just one of a record number of “firsts” filling the upcoming “Ilustrado Trove” exhibition and auction at León Gallery this Saturday, August 20 at Eurovilla I, Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village . (Previews are ongoing through Friday, August 19). Along with a copy of the first edition of the novel, the hoard includes paintings, sculptures, other rare books and photographs, silver and gold sets, ornately embroidered piña cloth and ephemera, shells of nautilus breakthroughs and hundreds of historical documents and letters. All these from the collection of Don Pedro Paterno.

Besides writing the first Filipino novel, Paterno also holds the distinction of being the first Filipino to write a book on Philippine history. “There were of course many history books about the Philippines at that time,” says Ponce de Leon, “but they were written by Italians like Pigafetta and Spaniards like Antonio Morga. So Paterno was the first to writing our own history from our point of view. It’s hard to imagine a day and time when foreigners wrote about who we were – and not Filipinos. But until 1887, that was the case.

The title of the first Philippine history book is “La Antigua Civilizacion Tagalog” and was written as a companion volume to the historic Exposition of the Philippine Islands in 1887 which Paterno helped produce for the Spanish crown in Madrid.

Sampaguitas by Don Pedro Paternofy
“Sampaguitas” by Don Pedro Paterno is said to be the first book of poetry by a Filipino to be published in Spain.

“In fact, many of the items on display and auctioned come from this exhibit, which in itself is a first of its kind in the world,” Ponce de Leon said.

There’s a mile-long list of firsts among the only books in this historic auction of Paterno’s works and estates. Another highlight is a copy of his “Sampaguitas,” the first book of Filipino poetry written by a Filipino and published in Spain.

The book will eventually be published in several editions. Accompanying him in the show is a captivating sculpture by Rosendo Martinez, titled The Sampaguita; a nod to Paterno’s obsession with the national flower of the Philippines.

Ponce de Leon is understandably very pleased that his León Gallery has the honor of presenting this historically important collection of Paterno. “It’s also the first of its kind in its completeness and impeccable provenance,” he said. “We invite collectors – seasoned or new – as well as anyone who wants a glimpse into the dawn of Filipino literature and culture to come and experience this treasure.”

Photos courtesy of Galerie Léon

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