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


Most of what we know about the provenance of the Library’s Mangyan bamboo collection comes from the three-volume publication Indic Writings of the Mindoro Palawan Axis by Fletcher Gardner and Ildefonso Maliwanag, an article published by Fletcher Gardner in the Journal of the American Oriental Society entitled “Three Contemporary Incised Bamboo Manuscripts from Hampangan Mangyan, Mindoro, P.I,” bamboo items in the collection, and documents accompanying these items that Gardner sent to the Library of Congress—transliterations and translations. Information from these sources suggests that all items in the collection were collected between 1904 and 1939.

The oldest dated item in the collection (Item A1, Set 1) was collected by Fletcher Gardner in 1904. It is a bamboo slat noting a complaint of slander written by a person named Sikadan, who identifies as Chief of Pokanin and Pangalkagan. Gardner explains in an article that describes the item that Sikadan was a chief of a large district inhabited by Mangyans, and was one of the party of Mangyans who occupied a village at the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri (it is unclear if Gardner meant the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World's Fair, or the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 held in Portland, Oregon; there were Philippine villages at both these expositions). In the same article published in 1939, entitled “Three Contemporary Incised Bamboo Manuscripts from Hampangan Mangyan, Mindoro, P. I.,” Gardner provides a copy of Sikadan’s writing in Mangyan script, a transliteration in Romanized script, and a translation in English. He also explains in the same article that he had collected the item along with two other bamboo items at the request of Mr. Dean C. Worcester, Secretary of the Interior for the Insular Government, who was acting for Mr. Edward E. Ayer. Two of the items were deposited in the Ayer Collection in the Newberry Library in Chicago. However, the item in the Library’s collection was lost until January 1939, when it was discovered among the papers of Gardner’s father, Dr. Joseph Gardner.

The background of Item A1 is informative for the Mangyan bamboo collection at the Library. First of all, it explains that the collection at the Library was assembled as part of a larger collecting effort on Indic scripts from the Philippines. Indeed, Mangyan inscriptions collected by Gardner can be found at other institutions in the United States such as the Newberry Library. Researchers might consider the relationship between the different Mangyan collections put together by Gardner.

Another observation regarding the Library’s collection is that it stemmed from Gardner’s long-standing interest in Mangyan culture, language, as well as Indic scripts from the Philippines. This interest was supported by different individuals and institutions in the United States. In addition to Ayer and the Newberry Library, Gardner’s research had the backing of the University of Michigan and the Witte Memorial Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Not surprisingly, Mangyan inscriptions collected by Gardner can be found at these institutions.

While we know that Gardner’s engagement with Mangyan writing had begun at least by 1904—he had started collecting Mangyan inscriptions and had put together a short vocabulary of Mangyan—it is unclear if he continued collecting or studying Mangyan scripts after his tour of duty in the Philippines. We do know that in 1938, Gardner started a project to study the Indic scripts of the Philippines, particularly those of the islands of Mindoro and Palawan.

In January of 1938, Gardner—who was in poor health—felt the need to take up a hobby that would enable him to interact with others. He began to study the Ayer Collection of the Newberry Library through an interlibrary loan to the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas, where Gardner was based. Six months after the start of the project, Gardner managed to contact his old friend in the Philippines, Ildefonso Maliwanag, who lived in Mansalay on the island of Mindoro, within reach of several Mangyan settlements.

Ildefonso Maliwanag and his brother Eusebio were instrumental in acquiring the Mangyan bamboo inscriptions that Gardner deposited at different institutions in the United States, including the ones at the Library of Congress. Eusebio made several long trips to seek out material for the study in the years 1938 and 1939, and both brothers worked on transliterations and translations of material acquired, recruited local partners like Mangyan interpreters, and also the help of relatives like Guillermo Bacal who helped with English translations and collecting items.

The result of the collaboration between Gardner and the Maliwanag brothers yielded, among other things, the assemblage of the bamboo collection at the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, along with the compilation of vocabularies and grammars, and transliterations and translations of material collected. Three volumes published from 1939 to 1940 entitled Indic Writings of the Mindoro Palawan Axis summarized the findings of the study. It is from this study, and collection items as well as accompanying documents deposited at the Library of Congress that we are able to determine when items in the Library’s Mangyan bamboo collection were collected or written.

Dates that accompany Ildefonso Maliwanag’s signature on many of the transliterations of items in Set 2 of the collection suggest that these items were collected no later than February of 1939, and were written by Luyon, who according to Gardner, was a Mangyan woman who described herself as the “wife of Yagao.” Gardner also presumed that Luyon was at least fifty years old in 1939. In a footnote on page 28 of volume 1 of Indic Writings of the Mindoro Palawan Axis, Gardner notes that as Luyon “writes of affairs under the Spanish occupation which ended more than forty years ago, she is presumably at least fifty years old.” The little that is known about Luyon is complicated by information provided by Patricia Afable, a curatorial affiliate at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History who has worked extensively with the Harold Conklin Archives. According to Afable, the famous anthropologist and linguist Harold Conklin, author of Hanunóo-English Vocabularynoted that Luyon was not a woman but a man, and he knew this because he had worked with Luyon and his brother Baduq in Yāgaw, Mindoro, between 1947 into the early 1950s. Furthermore, both Luyon and Baduq were known to the Maliwanag brothers. While biographical details about Luyon are contested, we do know that Luyon is the author/copier of all the items in Set 2.

As for 6 bamboo cylinders in the collection, according to p. 58 of the Appendix in volume 2: “The first four [meaning pages, bamboos numbered 172-177 in Vol. 2] were written in 1938 by a Mangyan named Balik. The originals are complete cylinders having the transliteration between the lines. These are now deposited in the Library of Congress at Washington.”

The dating of items in Set 2 and the 6 cylinders is relatively straightforward but less so for Set 1, which is made up of 22 bamboo slats inscribed with verses of a meter of 7 syllables per line (ambahan). In the foreword to Volume 2 of Indic Writings, Gardner suggests that Set 1 was collected in 1904:

“The first twenty-two of the series of songs were collected in 1904. Versions of this series are to be found in several museums and libraries where they serve as examples of Mangyan writing. It must be borne in mind that with the exception of the writings which are especially marked, every inscribed bamboo in the United States dates from 1938 to 1940. This statement applies to bamboos only…” (p. 1).

Set 1 at the Library of Congress consists of the first 22 items in verse transcribed, transliterated, and translated in volume 2, and hence one could conclude that these items were collected in 1904. While the foreword to Volume 2 gives the impression that LC’s items in verse were collected in 1904, we cannot assert this too confidently given that none of the bamboo items in verse are marked 1904.

Furthermore, in Gardner's 1939 article, he states that Item A1 (collected in 1904) was at the Library of Congress along with “seventy-six other pieces collected in the last year.” If all the 76 items at the Library—Set 1, excluding Item A1, and Set 2—were collected “in the last year,” that would mean Set 1 was not collected in 1904 but rather between 1938 and 1939, depending on what Gardner meant by “in the last year.” It should also be noted that none of the items in Set 1, except for A1, have dates on them. The conflicting evidence provided by Gardner, makes it difficult to state with any certainty when Set 1 was collected, and researchers should draw their own conclusions. What is evident is that Set 1 was collected no later than 1939.

In terms of the author or copier—ambahan have historically not been ascribed to a particular composer and form part of a long, living communal tradition of poetry—of Set 1, no name is given by Gardner or Maliwanag in Indic Writings. However, looking at the bamboo items in Set 1, it is clear that each one is signed “Kabal.” On the reverse side of one of the items (Item 19), Ildefonso Maliwanag also notes in Spanish that the item was written by Kabal: “escrito por Kabal.” Since Item 19 bears the same signature as all the other items in Set 1, we can surmise that Set 1 was written by Kabal.