The Asian Division's Southeast Asian Rare Book Collection counts among its most unique items a collection of 71 bamboo slats and 6 cylinders from the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. These items are etched with either verses or prose in the Mangyan script—an Indic-derived writing system that pre-dates the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines and persists to the present. They make up the Library of Congress’s Mangyan bamboo collection from Mindoro, Philippines, circa 1900-1939, which is now freely available online.
The collection was assembled between the years 1904 and 1939 as a result of the collaboration between Fletcher Gardner—a Contract Surgeon of the United States Army stationed at Bulalacao on Mindoro island from 1904-1905—and two brothers who lived on the island of Mindoro: Ildefonso Maliwanag and Eusebio Maliwanag.
The bulk of the collection was written by three Mangyan authors: Luyon, Kabal, and Balik. Luyon wrote 48 bamboo slats that cover various topics, ranging from life under Spanish occupation of the Philippines, to agriculture, education, and different stages of life (childhood, adolescence, courtship, marriage, and death). Kabal wrote 22 items in verse (called ambahan, a form of poetry with seven-syllable lines and rhyming endings). Balik was responsible for the 6 cylinders in the collection, which are in prose. It should be noted that the compositions, especially the verses, might not necessarily be originals as many are handed down from generation to generation or are adaptations of well-known poems. This is not to say that ambahan is a static art form. To the contrary, new ambahan continue to be written. To learn more about the origins of the collection, please see the “Provenance” section of this guide. To hear recordings of Mangyan poetry, please see Hanunuo-Mangyan poems ambahan session: from the collection of anthropologist Antoon Postma of Mangyan Research Center available onsite at the Library of Congress.
In addition to the inscribed bamboo items, the collection also includes three volumes entitled Indic Writings of the Mindoro Palawan Axis. The first two volumes were written by Fletcher Gardner and Ildefonso Maliwanag and contain transliterations and translations of all the items in the Library’s Mangyan bamboo collection except for one item (Item A1), as well as those in other collections such as the Ayer Collection External of the Newberry Library in Chicago. The third, is a Mangyan vocabulary and grammar by Gardner.
Besides the three volumes, readers will also find typed and handwritten Romanized transliterations and translations of the bamboo items in the collection. These are mainly of 48 items in the collection (Set 2), and are published in Indic Writings with a few minor orthographic differences.
For more information on the collection, please contact Southeast Asian reference staff using the Library’s Ask-a-Librarian service.
The Asian Reading Room provides public access to more than 4 million items in approximately 200 languages and dialects from across Asia, including Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, Vietnamese, and many others. In the reading room, researchers can use the Asian Division’s collections of printed materials, microform, and databases and confer with reference librarians to answer research questions about the countries of East, South, and Southeast Asia.