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Sunday, 2 December 2007


IN “DESCRIPTIONS OF My Life,” her unpopular autobiography, Josephine Bracken described her parents, her childhood, her heartaches, her disappointments, and her first meeting with Dr Jose Rizal. Josephine’s complete name was Josephine Leopoldine McBride Bracken. She was born in Victoria Barracks in Hong Kong on August 9, 1876, to Cpl James Bracken and Elizabeth McBride.
She had four siblings—Nelly, Agnes, Charles, and Francis (Cabrera, 1999).

Because her mother died after giving birth to her and because her father, being a military man, was always on the move, Josephine was adopted by Mr and Mrs George Edward Taufer, her godparents. Mr Taufer was a German-American boiler engineer. Mrs Taufer died of a heart disease in 1882. After one year, Mr Taufer took his second wife who also died in 1890. After another year, Mr Taufer took his third wife, who, in Josephine’s own words, was a torment to her (Cabrera, 1999).

One month after, Josephine ran away from home and sought refuge at an Italian convent for two months until Mr Taufer pleaded for her to return. In 1893, Mr Taufer fell ill from double cataract that no ophthalmologist in Hong Kong could cure (Cabrera, 1999). Mr Taufer then heard of Rizal from Julio Llorente, a Filipino resident in Hong Kong (Medina, 1997).

On February 5, 1895, Josephine, accompanying Mr Taufer, arrived in Manila. In the same month, they went to Dapitan in Zamboanga to consult Rizal (Medina, 1997). At first sight, Rizal and Josephine fell in love with each other. He was attracted to her blue eyes, brown hair, and happy disposition, and though she was not highly educated, she was witty, quick, and eager to hear all the things that Rizal had to say (“Dapitan,” n.d.).

After a whirlwind romance of one month, they agreed to get married. When Mr Taufer learned about their plan, he flared up in violent rage. Unable to endure the thought of losing Josephine, he tried to commit suicide by cutting off his throat with a sharp razor. Rizal, however, grabbed Mr Taufer’s wrists and stopped him from killing himself. To avoid further tragedy, Josephine returned to Manila with Mr Taufer by the first available steamer the next day (“Dapitan,” n.d.).

Before Josephine left, Rizal gave her a poem that reads in translation: To Josephine//Josephine, Josephine/ Who to these shores have come/ Looking for a nest, a home/ Like a wandering wallow/ If your fate is taking you/ To Japan, China, or Shanghai/ Don’t forget that on these shores/ A heart for you beats high/ (“To Josephine” 1).

Uncured because his ailment is untreatable, Mr Taufer returned to Hong Kong alone. Josephine was left in Manila and was supposed to stay with Rizal’s family as the latter requested his mother through a letter. However, it was with Narcisa that Josephine stayed because the rest of Rizal’s sisters were suspicious that she was a spy for Spanish friars to lure Rizal into a well-laid trap (Alburo, 2001; Cabrera, 1999).

After six months, Josephine returned to Dapitan. Doña Teodora permitted her son to marry Josephine, but Fr Antonio Obach of Dapitan refused to sanctify their marriage without a special dispensation from the Bishop of Cebu. But because Rizal was a mason, though Josephine was a Roman Catholic, a dispensation was not given. They then married each other, as one account narrated, holding hands in the presence of two witnesses. They lived together as husband and wife in an octagonal bamboo house that Josephine turned into a love nest—stocking the pantry with pickles and preserves; cooking, washing, and finding food when supplies ran low; and trying desperately to build bridges with Rizal’s family especially his sisters who heard rumors that Josephine was a woman of the streets and was a singer in a tavern in Hong Kong (Alburo, 2001; Cabrera, 1999).

In his letter to Trinidad on January 15, 1896, Rizal wrote that “we had no quarrels and we always laugh happily” (“Dapitan,” n.d.), but unlike fairy tales that end with “and they lived happily ever after,” Rizal and Josephine’s love affair did not last long. Quarrels came much later, one of which, based from an article in the Philippines Free Press, was violent, leading to her miscarriage. The same article suggests that Rizal’s days of consolation with Josephine were over and that his request for assignment to Cuba as a medical volunteer was also prompted by his unhappiness with her (Alburo, 2001).

On his way to Cuba, Rizal, however, was arrested, and after a mock trial, Spanish authorities sentenced him to death. On December 29, 1896, Josephine visited Rizal in his cell, spending the whole night on her knees in front of the chapel where he was detained. After seeing her, Rizal sadly exclaimed: “Ah! My dear, my time has come to be united to you but to be separated forever.” After which, he begged for forgiveness for the sorrows he had caused her (Cabrera, 1999).

Minutes before he calmly faced the firing squad, Spanish authorities allowed Rizal to marry Josephine. He gave her Fr Thomas á Kempis’s De La Imitacion de Cristo y Menosprecio del Mundo with the dedication: “To my dear and unhappy wife, Josephine, December 30th, 1896, Jose Rizal” (Zaide and Zaide, 1999). After some time, she became a widow and she was just 20 years old then (Cabrera, 1999).

After the revolution, Josephine asked for the mortal remains of Rizal, but she was refused by the Spaniards. She swore to avenge his death by joining Gen Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary movement on January 6, 1897. She once led a charge against the Spaniards and killed one Spanish officer using her own rifle. She participated in many battles, and most of the time, she was hungry and barefooted (Cabrera, 1999).

After the revolution, Josephine stayed in Cebu where the American colonial government employed her as a public school teacher. One of her students was Sergio Osmeña, who became the Second President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Afterwards, she returned to Manila, taught at the Liceo de Manila, and witnessed the Tejeros Convention of the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions of the Katipunan at San Francisco de Malabon in Cavite. She was then summoned by Governor General Camilo Polavieja who gave her an ultimatum to leave the country. Frightened because of an impending torture, she left Manila for Hong Kong in May 1897 (Alburo, 2001).

When her foster father died, Josephine was married to Don Vicente Abad of Cebu, who was then working in a tabacalera in Hong Kong, on December 15, 1898. They had one daughter, Dolores Abad, who was born on April 27, 1900, in Hong Kong, and who was married to Don Salvador Mina of Ilocos Sur. When Dolores was one year old, her parents brought her to the Philippines, and they lived with the other Abads in a big house in Calle Magdalena, Trozo, Manila (Cabrera, 1999).

Afflicted by tuberculosis of the larynx, Josephine wished to die in the land of her birth. A certain Father Spada, then Vicar General of Hong Kong, said that he was deeply touched upon seeing her deplorable condition. Father Spada added that the last time he saw Josephine, he was stricken with pity. She was broken down in health and in spirit, and she had lost all her hope and her faith in humanity (Cabrera, 1999).

Father Spada took Josephine to the Saint Francis Hospital where nuns took good care of her. At the eve of her death, she asked for the Holy Sacrament that Father Spada and another priest administered. She died on March 15, 1902, without knowing how a line of a poem had rendered her, as only a good poet can, immortal: Adiós, dulce estranjera, mi amiga, mi alegría (Farewell, sweet foreigner, my darling, my delight). Her mortal remains were buried in the Catholic section of the Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong (Cabrera, 1999).

In honor of Rizal’s dulce estranjera, the City of Manila named a small street, Josefina, after her. It crosses España Street near the Quezon City boundary (Alburo, 2001).

N. B. This article was written using the APA documentation format. List of works cited are available upon request.

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