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Posts Tagged ‘William Cameron Forbes’

Back in 2011,  I wondered whatever happened to William Cameron Forbes after he died. I looked into the newspaper archives and the last mention is of his memorial at the chapel at Harvard on December 26, 1959. He died on Christmas Eve at his last residence, the Hotel Vendome, in Boston.

I married into an old Yankee family with a mercantile history. Great-great grandfather William G. Bell formulated and manufactured Bell’s Seasonings, an icon on the Thanksgiving table. I know how the old families operate, on a subdued channel, never ostentatious, hardly publicly curious. Well, I suppose my husband is lucky because I am unceasingly curious and he enjoys this part of my personality.

Because Forbes was the founder of Baguio, the man who went and lived in a thatched roof hut and dreamed of a city in the pines, I thought there would be some mention of Baguio in his will.

So I trekked over to Baker Library at Harvard Business School on a hot afternoon.

I filled out forms and had an interview, and after a long while which I spent looking at the pictures on the wall and the lawn outside, a big box was set in front of me.

William Cameron Forbes’ Last Will and Testament. I looked through it. Mostly family bequests, he seemed very devoted to his nieces and nephews, and dear old friends.

“I bequeath Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger to Harvard College,” the document said.

I was startled. Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger? The first president of the Independent Republic of the Philippines? Really? Where was it? Did it make its way to a national museum? Was it still at Harvard?

I quickly wrote an email to the reference librarian and received an answer.

“The dagger is here,” it said. “You can check it out like any book in the archives. Here is the call number.”

The following day I went into the archives and requested the dagger and the letters that accompanied it.

There was a makeshift procession that emerged from the back. A librarian carried the dagger in its case and place it in front of me. Another librarian carried bound volumes of typed journals, and the third carried a box of folders with original letters in Spanish, and their English translations.

My heart started beating so fast and my eyes welled with tears at the sight of the Filipino sun on the dagger’s hilt. In my mind there was a violin and the mournful tune of “Bayan Ko.” I remembered my own great-grandfather, Modesto Joaquin who was a colonel in Aguinaldo’s army. I can tell stories for days about the effects of war on generations of children. But that is for another day.

I looked at the letters, first a serious but cordial letter in Spanish from Aguinaldo asking for concessions for prisoners in his native province of Kavite.

Then some entries on the Forbes side of visits and conversations with Emilio Aguinaldo.

On August 10th, 1907 (I read this on August 10th 2011), there was an entry by Forbes saying that Aguinaldo had visited and given him the dagger, and he had received it with the knowledge of its significance.

Aguinaldo and I called on each other quite often and occasionally played chess together; and finally I went to the States and had made a handsome set of ivory chessmen with an appropriate box, which I presented to the General. Some time after this he called on me, and drawing from his inner pocket a bundle wrapped up in silk, he presented it to me and told me it was the dagger he had carried at his side through two insurrections, that the silk handkerchief in which it was wrapped was of Philippine silk and bore his initials, and that the dagger was the first weapon made in the Philippine Armory after the insurrection was started.

I hesitated gravely about taking the gift. I knew the Spanish practice of making gifts with the expectation of their being refused. And yet Aguinaldo had come to my house purposely to make this present and it didn’t fall into that category. I did tell him, however, that I felt the memorial was so valuable to his children that he ought to keep it for them; he said that he wanted me to have it. I then asked him if he would write me its history, which he did.

Dear readers, I apologize for the picture’s quality. I was shooting through glass and didn’t know about the anti-glare setting. I can go back and photograph everything again, but for now, I wanted to share this discovery.

Click on this link to see the rest of the photos. All photos are courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.

https://picasaweb.google.com/109226677647276865086/August11201103?authuser=0&feat=directlink

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The letter is beautiful when read in Spanish. Heartbreaking when read in English. The reason we read in English instead of Spanish is woven directly into the letter. Only about one hundred years ago, the history changed. The Islas Filipinas fell under a new flag, the old flag – ragged and bloody was hardly used.

I think all Filipinos can feel  the audacious thrill of stepping away from the abuses of the gobierno de los frailes. Imagine creating one’s own country. Imagine winning. Imagine losing it again.

Imagine finding a friend in someone who was supposed to be an enemy. Imagine finding the fragment of hope. Imagine becoming a friend away from the limelight, away from the politicians. Imagine long afternoons on a veranda in Old Manila, with the dappled light coming through the capiz windows and playing chess with a young man whose Spanish was halting.

Look at the letters, read them in Spanish, then read the translation transcribed below.

The Honorable Cameron F. Forbes

Dear Sir:

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated July 29th. You are right in your statement that the souvenir which I have presented to you is of historical value to me and much, therefore, be held in high esteem by my children, for which reason you hesitated for a moment to accept it.

This dagger, my inseparable companion in the events of ‘96, is truly a relic. My children, unconscious witnesses of the vicissitudes through which their humble father is passing, are, indeed, as the apples of my eyes to me; but before this relic, and before my children comes my adored country, the most sacred of what is sacred to me in this life.

It therefore seems natural to me to dedicate this relic to you, whom I expect to be perhaps one of the first to promote, at the opportune moment, the complete aggrandizement of my country, which is worthy of a better fate.

As to the history of this blade, which faithfully reflects various episodes of my sad life, I can summarize it in the statement than I have moistened it more than once; but I will keep my mouth sealed as to whether it was wetted with noble or with vile blood.

The Tagalog names and the date engraved on the scabbard are: “Kawit”, which is the original name of my native pueblo, known now as Cavite Viejo: “August 31, 1896”, the date of the first uprising of the pueblos of San Francisco de Malabon, Noveleta, and Kawit. In the province of Cavite: “June 12, 1898”, the date of the declaration of independence proclaimed in the pueblo of Kawit or Cavite Viejo and “Kalayaan”, which means Liberty.

The triangular piece of metal means the role of the brotherhood of man. The sun engraved upon it, and the eight rays issuing from it symbolizes the idea which cast its light into the remotest nooks of this Archipelago, illuminating before all others the first eight Tagalog provinces in which martial law was proclaimed by the Spanish government, which were: Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Bulacan, Morong (now Rizal), Laguna, Tayabas, Batangas, and Cavite.  The three stars represent the Islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, of which the late Philippine Republic intended to form the “United States of Oceania”.

Yours respectfully,
(signed) Eo. Aguinaldo

*****************

Here is the link to the letters. With thanks to Houghton Library at Harvard University.

https://picasaweb.google.com/109226677647276865086/Aug18201103?authuser=0&feat=directlink

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