Foot­notes fuel his­tory

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - Com­ments are wel­come at ao­campo@ate­ AMBETH R. OCAMPO

Walk­ing through the her­itage district of Hako­date in Hokkaido re­minded me of the more fa­mous Ja­panese trad­ing ports of Na­gasaki and Yoko­hama be­cause of the West­ern in­flu­ences in their built her­itage. Hako­date has red-brick bode­gas fronting the bay and an ar­ray of Chris­tian churches: Rus­sian Ortho­dox, Epis­co­palian, and Ro­man Catholic, all quaint in a ru­ral Ja­panese land­scape.

What struck me dur­ing my aim­less walk­ing was a con­crete elec­tric post proudly marked “The First Con­crete Elec­tric Post in Ja­pan.” We of­ten think of his­tory in grand terms, peo­pled with great men who do great deeds, but his­tory is the sum of many foot­notes like a con­crete elec­tric post.

Foot­notes fuel his­tory, and the lat­est one came by way of the re­cent Sotheby’s Geneva sale of a 6.16-carat, pear-shaped, blue di­a­mond for $6.7 mil­lion. It was not the most ex­pen­sive di­a­mond sold that day. Two oth­ers would make my gemol­o­gist cousins gape be­cause they were more than 50 carats each, D color, flaw­less and type IIa. The round one of 51.71 carats sold for $9.2 mil­lion, and the oval one of 51.39 carats for $8.1 mil­lion.

Nev­er­the­less, the “Far­nese Blue Di­a­mond” was the star of the show. It is named after Elis­a­beth Far­nese, an Ital­ian princess who be­came queen of Spain, and who re­ceived it as a wedding gift in 1715.

The gem has been passed through royal suc­ces­sion for three cen­turies, and at one point is said to have been part of the ill-fated Marie An­toinette’s tiara. It comes in a box ac­com­pa­nied by an en­graved sil­ver plaque. The text on the plaque, trans­lated from the orig­i­nal French, reads: “Re­mark­able blue bril­liant. This his­tor­i­cal stone was of­fered by the Philip­pine Is­lands to Elis­a­beth Far­nese, Queen of Spain, wife of Philip V, great grand­fa­ther of the Count of Vil­lafranca, cur­rent owner of that stone 6K 1/39.”

Di­a­monds are not mined in the Philip­pines, so how did this come to be? Ac­cord­ing to the French his­to­rian Vin­cent Meylian, when the wid­owed Span­ish king Philip V mar­ried Elis­a­beth Far­nese in 1714, all Span­ish colonies were or­dered to con­trib­ute a suit­able dowry. Gold, sil­ver, and a case of emer­alds were as­sem­bled in Cuba and loaded into 12 ships that set off for Madrid in Au­gust 1715, only to be sunk by a hur­ri­cane in the Gulf of Florida 10 days later. One of the trea­sures that sur­vived was the blue di­a­mond, sent by Martín de Urzúa y Ariz­mendi from the colony that bore the same name as the new­ly­wed king. Its color was royal blue and it is be­lieved to have orig­i­nated from the Gol­conda mines in In­dia, the first source of di­a­monds be­fore Brazil in the 1720s.

Urzúa y Ariz­mendi (1653-1715), Conde de Lizár­raga and knight of the Or­den de San­ti­ago, dis­tin­guished him­self in Span­ish Amer­ica where he served as gov­er­nor-gen­eral of Yucatan be­fore be­ing ap­pointed to the Philip­pines. The ap­point­ment was made in 1704, but he be­gan his term five years later, upon his ar­rival in Manila in 1709.

As gov­er­nor-gen­eral of the Span­ish Philip­pines, from 1709 till his death in Manila in 1715, he in­sti­tuted the first ad­min­is­tra­tive and eco­nomic re­forms mark­ing the change of dy­nas­tic winds in Madrid when the crown was blown from the Haps­burgs to the French Bour­bon line that con­tin­ues to its present King Felipe VI.

Urzúa y Ariz­mendi is not a fa­mil­iar name in the long list of 96 men who served as gov­er­nors-gen­eral (not count­ing act­ing gov­er­nors) be­gin­ning with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565 to Basilio Agustin in 1898. What little we know of him and his ad­min­is­tra­tion in­cludes th­ese: that he or­dered the re­duc­tion of Chi­nese traders liv­ing in Manila to avoid a re­peat of bloody Chi­nese re­volts against the Span­ish, and that he in­ter­vened in the in­ter­nal dis­pute be­tween the Arch­bishop of Manila and the reg­u­lar friar or­ders, the Recol­lects in par­tic­u­lar.

He saw through the piracy of the English, and re­pelled Moro in­cur­sions, the most se­ri­ous be­ing the siege at the Fort of Zam­boanga that lasted two months. He es­tab­lished the first state mo­nop­oly on tuba, or al­co­hol from nipa, and re­stricted its pro­duc­tion to Lu­zon in 1712. In gen­eral, his term was marked by a pe­riod of peace.

Ac­quired by an un­named col­lec­tor, the Far­nese Blue Di­a­mond will per­haps never be seen in pub­lic again, leav­ing us with little else but a Philip­pine foot­note in its his­tory.


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