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Mangyan Bamboo Collection from Mindoro, Philippines, circa 1900-1939, at the Library of Congress

Background Information on the Mangyan

The term “Mangyan” is an umbrella term that refers to several indigenous communities on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. There are eight recognized groups: Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tawbuid, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunuo, and Ratagnon. While these groups are often referred to as “Mangyan,” they speak different languages, and only one of the ethnic groups—Hanunuo—refers to itself as Mangyan. “Hanunuo” is an exonym for both the ethnic group and the language, and is often tagged onto “Mangyan” to form “Hanunuo Mangyan.” “Hanunuo” means “truly, real,” or “genuine.” Hanunuo Mangyans tend to drop the descriptor “hanunuo” within their communities, and refer to themselves and their language as “Mangyan.”

Of the eight groups of Mangyan listed above, only the Hanunuo and the Buhid from the southern part of Mindoro Island have attested writing systems. Both writing systems, called “Surat Hanunuo Mangyan” and “Surat Buhid Mangyan” respectively are thought to be of Indic origin, and perhaps introduced into Mangyan culture from what is now Indonesia around the 12th or 13th centuries. The Hanunuo Mangyan and Southern Buhid have similar syllabic scripts due to their geographical proximity. The Northern Buhid, on the other hand, have their own syllabary. These syllabaries, that date back to pre-Spanish times (before the early 1500s), are one of the few pre-Spanish writing systems that survived Spanish rule, and enabled the Mangyan peoples to preserve a rich literary tradition.

One of the most widely loved Mangyan literary forms is the song poem. There are three distinct classes of song-poems: ambahan, urukay, and adahiyo. The ambahan is a poem with 7 syllables per line with the last syllable of each line rhyming with the others. Ambahan are composed anonymously and still immensely popular. They cover a wide range of subjects such as birds, plants, and natural phenomena. The composers use the symbolism of these subjects to express their desires, deal with embarrassing situations, and in courting, among other things. Ambahan are often recited during large gatherings and there is no musical accompaniment. Those who participate in ambahan sessions often go back and forth in exchanges that highlight the improvisational skills of the poet. In addition to public settings, ambahan are also recited in more private surroundings for pleasure. The Library’s Mangyan bamboo collection contains 22 ambahan (Set 1).

Another poetic form is the urukay. Urukay consist of lines of eight syllables and have uniform end-rhymes. The word urukay probably comes from the neighboring island of Panay where it means “merrymaking.” The language of the Mangyan urukay is old Hiligaynon-Bisaya and is no longer understood by most Mangyan singers today. Urukay was probably acquired by the Mangyans from early contacts with Bisayans. Usually, urukay is less popular with younger audiences and confined to the older generation of Mangyan. They are sung to the accompaniment of a guitar.

The adahiyo is the third kind of poem in the Mangyan literary tradition. The term comes from the Spanish adagio or “adage.” The adahiyo usually has six syllables to a line but without a fixed final syllable rhyming scheme. This literary form is not widely performed among the Mangyan and might have been acquired through contacts with Tagalogs who settled in Mindoro. The adahiyo is recited without the accompaniment of music, and contains many adapted Spanish words and Catholic religious terms.

As is evident, the Mangyan have a rich literary tradition with a long history. Despite its deep roots, most of the extant historical examples of Mangyan writing are no more than a century old. This is because Mangyan writing was carved on bamboo, a material that deteriorates quickly in the local, tropical climate. The Library of Congress’s Mangyan bamboo collection—which dates to between ca. 1904-1939, thus preserves a link between the current living tradition of Mangyan writing and literature and its past.

While the Mangyan script is still not widely known, its preservation has received a boost in the last few decades. In 1997, the Mangyan script was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the government of the Philippines and the following year, it was inscribed in the Memory of the World Registers of UNESCO (United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization).

The work of Antoon Postma—a Dutch scholar who originally went to Mindoro as a Society of the Divine Word or SVD missionary in 1958 and lived among the Mangyan for more than half a century—inspired the establishment of the Mangyan Heritage Center, a non-profit organization based in Calapan City. The Mangyan Heritage Center continues to promote and keep alive the cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of Mindoro through digital collections, recordings, and publications on the Mangyan as well as through programs to revive Mangyan syllabic scripts and ambahan.

At the Library of Congress, in addition to the Mangyan bamboo collection, users can also listen to recordings of ambahan donated by the Mangyan Heritage Center onsite.

Rare Materials Notice

Rare Materials Notice: This collection contains many rare books, manuscripts, and other unique items that are only accessible in the Asian Reading Room by advance appointment. To schedule an appointment, contact reference staff through Ask a Librarian. Researchers should review the Asian Division's Rare Book Policy prior to their appointment. Links to titles of rare books and manuscripts on this page will retrieve fuller bibliographic information from the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Further Reading

The following titles link to either fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog or to the Library of Congress E-Resources Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Conklin, Harold. Hanunóo-English vocabulary. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953.

Delgado Fansler, Lolita, Quintin V. Pastrana, Raena E. Abella, and Emily Catapang, eds. Bamboo whispers : poetry of the Mangyan. Makati City, Philippines: Bookmark, Inc., Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines: Mangyan Heritage Center, Inc., 2017.

Gardner, Fletcher. “Three Contemporary Incised Bamboo Manuscripts from Hampangan Mangyan, Mindoro, P. I.,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Dec., 1939, Vol. 59, No. 4, pp. 496-502.

Gardner, Fletcher and Ildefonso Maliwanag. Indic writings of the Mindoro-Palawan axis, 3 vols., San Antonio, Texas: Witte Memorial Museum, 1939-1940.

Postma, Antoon. Annotated Mangyan bibliography (1570-1988) : with index. Panaytayan, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines: Mangyan Assistance and Research Center, 1988.

Postma, Antoon. "Mangyan folklore," Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, March-June 1977, Vol. 5, No. 1/2, Philippine Cultural Minorities II, pp. 38-53.

Postma, Antoon. Treasure of a minority : the ambahan, a poetic expression of the Mangyans of Southern Mindoro, Philippines. Manila: Arnoldus Press, 1981.