CAMILING, Tarlac—They would know that Dr. Jose Rizal’s birth, or death anniversary is just around the corner when reporters and researchers start coming in.
This was the typical scene in the Kipping household when its members were growing up, and it remains the same to this day.
As a young girl, Dr. Maria Lourdes “Ilou” Kipping said she would also wonder then why they needed to dress up in Filipiniana to attend some wreath-laying ceremony before the monument of Rizal. The elders would always tell her and the other children that they are there as representatives of the family.
“I am not related to Rizal so why would they need a representative from our family,” said Kipping, recalling an incessant query on why she would wear a dress with stiff sleeves during the celebration of Rizal’s birth or death anniversary.
To a nation awed and intrigued by Rizal’s love life, the Kipping family is not typical. Its members are direct descendants of Leonor Rivera, who had been immortalized in Philippine history as the true love of the national hero.
Which is why the Kippings will always have a special place during ceremonies honoring Rizal, a legacy left them by their great grandmother.
Kipping, now in her 50s, said that aside from its antique design and features, they could tell that something in their house in Barangay Poblacion here belonged to their great grandmother because her initials—LRK (Leonor Rivera Kipping)—would be on it, whether it be a porcelain dish or lattice work on the walls.
As they stay in the ancestral home, there was much of “LRK” in their growing years. They lived with, and actually used, what could have been “museum pieces.”
She said people would always request to visit their house and see these memorabilia.
When the old house was renovated, Kipping said her father, the late Dr. Carlos Kipping Jr., decided to build a small museum in a corner of their yard to keep all of Rivera’s memorabilia. He called it the “Maria Clara Museum,” in honor of the lead woman character in Rizal’s novel, “Noli me Tangere,” whose inspiration was drawn from Rivera.
Leonor Bauzon Rivera was born on April 11, 1867, to a landed family. Their house is in the heart of Camiling, 50 kilometers from the capital city of Tarlac.
Rivera’s father, Antonio, was a native of Laguna and an uncle of Rizal. Her mother, Silvestra Bauzon, was a native of Camiling.
After her failed relationship with Rizal, Rivera married an Englishman, railroad engineer Henry Charles Kipping, on June 17, 1890, in Dagupan in Pangasinan. She died on Aug. 28, 1893, from complications after giving birth to her second child.
Rivera’s eldest child, Carlos Kipping Sr., married Lourdes Romulo, a sister of Filipino diplomat Carlos P. Romulo. Carlos Sr. and Lourdes Kipping bore two daughters and a son, Carlos Jr., father of Dr. Ilou Kipping.
Kipping said the story of Rizal’s and Rivera’s forbidden love had been told and retold hundreds of times, from generation to generation, in their family.
Family members knew that it was their great great grandmother, Silvestra, who asked the postmaster to hold letters from Rizal to Rivera, and those being sent by Rivera to Rizal.
Kipping said her great great grandmother would not want a “radical” to be her daughter’s husband and preferred that she marry Henry Charles Kipping, who was part of the team that laid the groundwork for the Manila-Dagupan railway.
Kipping said that even as Rivera’s rise to prominence was something very personal to Rizal, it still was a legacy that her descendants can not brush aside, or ignore.
On the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Rizal, Kipping said some of Rivera’s memorabilia were borrowed by the Yuchengco Museum in Makati City to be part of the exhibit, “Rizalizing the Future.”
Kipping said that for whatever value Rivera had in the life of Rizal or in history, Rivera’s descendants were consigned to be keepers of her legacy—a role they earned by birth and history.
They realized they have to share Rivera with the public, she said.
Kipping said the family was requested to lend Rivera’s memorabilia to the Museo de Tarlac for five years. However, she said the permission of the other descendants must be sought first.
As the museum at the Kipping compound here is private, most residents of Camiling had never seen it.
Kipping said that early attempts by her father to coordinate with government agencies, such as the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (formerly the National Historical Institute), to preserve Rivera’s memorabilia did not result in anything.
“Katagal na ng usapan na ito (This discussion has been going on for years) but no support came about,” she said.
Today, the Maria Clara Museum lies forlorn in a nook of the Kipping compound and is kept clean and secured by family housekeepers.
Camiling resident Kristina Espejo, 21, said it would be good to see what’s inside the museum.
But for now, Espejo said she was content knowing that Rizal’s “true love” was a fellow Camileña and that whenever she and her friends pass by the Kipping compound, they were reminded of the azotea (balcony) described in Rizal’s “Noli me Tangere.”