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

Transcriptions, Transliterations, and Translations

The main source of transcriptions, transliterations, and translations for the bamboo slats and cylinders in the Library of Congress’s Mangyan bamboo collection from Mindoro, Philippines, circa 1900-1939 is Fletcher Gardner and Ildefonso Maliwanag’s Indic Writings of the Mindoro Palawan Axis, specifically volumes 1 and 2.

Transcriptions, transliterations, and/or translations for every item in the collection can be found in these two volumes. The only exception is Item A1. A transcription of the text, a transliteration in Romanized Mangyan, and an English translation can be found in Fletcher Gardner’s article “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. Fletcher Gardner also provided a transliteration and English translation of the item in a typed document sent to the Library of Congress. When comparing these two sources, it is apparent that there are some variations between the transliteration and translation of Item A1. The transliteration and translation in the article read as follows:

Magosap kanme dikon. Nakaiyak sa kang magbalay. Nasurat si Mora sakubang. Dimalak ulitan. Ako si Sikadan tanongan sa Pokanin kag sa Pangalkagan.

We make a complaint of slander. There was weeping among my family. Mora wrote at once a confused reply. I, Sikadan, am Chief of Pokanin and Pangalkagan

The transliteration and translation in the typed document sent to the Library of Congress are noted below:

Magosap kanme dikon. Nakaiyak sa kang magbalay. Nasurat si Mora sa Koba. Dimalak olitawo. Ako si Sidian tanoñgan sa Pokanin kag sa Pañgalkagan.

We make a complaint of slander. There was weeping among my family. Mora wrote to Koba. The young man goes too far. I, Sikadan, am Chief of Pokanin and Pañgalkagan.

The differences have been set in bold font for the reader’s convenience. These variations suggest that there is some instability in the interpretation of the text and raises the question of the accuracy of transliterations and translations provided by Fletcher Gardner and Ildefonso Maliwanag. Indeed, Harold C. Conklin—an anthropologist and scholar of Mangyan—noted this issue concerning Gardner and Maliwanag’s Indic Writings in his book Hanunóo-English Vocabulary, p. 2. Therefore, it would be wise to approach transliterations and translations of collection items provided in Indic Writings as well as those in the digital presentation of the collection, which come from Indic Writings, as works in progress. Gardner supports this point of view—especially in relation to the poems in the collection (Items 1-22 in Set 1)—when he writes in the foreword to volume 2 of Indic Writings:

“The songs were accompanied by a transliteration and translation into Tagalog which facilitates to some extent the translation into English. However, these Tagalog translations are not to be relied upon since the Mangyan interpreters sometimes substitute an entirely different transliteration or translation apparent when the transliteration is compared with the original. Even where the error is not intentional, the Tagalog version is almost sure to be a very free rendering instead of the required word-for-word interpretation” (p.1)

Furthermore, one also notes differences between the published English translations in Indic Writings and the handwritten translations sent to the Library of Congress by Gardner of items 1-48 in Set 2. Titles of texts are not always the same: “Birth of a Mangyan” (Item 1, Indic Writings) as opposed to “Mangyan Delivering” (No. 1, handwritten English translation). A third translation of titles is also available in the Spanish language. These can be found written in ink on the reverse side of each bamboo slat in Set 2. For example, for Item 1, the title given is “Nacimiento y nombre de niños mangyanes,” which loosely translated reads “Birth and name of Mangyan children.”

The translations of the main text in both the published and handwritten versions tend to be similar but the wording often times differs. For example, a passage from the published version of Item 5 in Set 2 reads

“The lad of fifteen years always has the thought of courtship. Always he takes his guitar and accompanies his older brother to court the girl, as an accompaniment to the love song.”

Compare this with the parallel passage in the handwritten translation:

“A Mangyan lad of 15 or 16 years has in his mind the heart feeling of courtship. He brings guitar goes with his elder brother to serenade the maid. Hears the song and the chant (ambahan).”

While the essence of the two translations seem to line up, it is apparent there are variations—sometimes ones which could affect meaning. “Love song” is not the same as “chant (ambahan).” While some “ambahan”—poems with seven-syllable lines—have love as their theme, not all are love songs.

The differences in translation are perhaps related to the translation process. In chapter 6 of Indic Writings, Volume 1, Gardner explains that

“In the preparation of the translation a card catalogue containing more than 5,000 words is used for comparison and correction. In case of any difference between the original text and the transliteration or translation, the original text is assumed to be correct,” p. 25.

The mention of “correction” suggests that Gardner was working from transliterations and translations that had been provided to him. Indeed a note from Gardner accompanying the bamboo collection [insert link to image from digital presentation] suggests as much:

“Original Transliterations and Translations to accompany Incised Bamboo Indic M.S. from Mindoro Philippines Islands. Corrected translations will be sent out as soon as studies now in progress are completed.”

We do know Ildefonso Maliwanag made transliterations of the bamboo scripts in Set 2 from Gardner’s description of his method of study:

“The transcription so obtained is compared with the transliteration made by Maliwanag at the time and place of the original writing,” p. 25.

Maliwanag also provided Gardner with translations. The handwritten translations in the Library’s collection are all certified by Ildefonso Maliwanag. However, it was perhaps not Maliwanag but others who translated the Mangyan texts in Set 2. In the foreword to volume 2 of Indic Writings, Gardner mentions that the items in prose featured in that volume were translated by Eusebio Maliwanag and Guillermo C. Bacal (see p. 1). Perhaps Eusebio Maliwanag or Bacal also translated the items in Set 2. Bacal does provide corrections to translations in volume one (see the page “Corrections on Volume I” that appears just before the foreword), which hints at his role in translating the items in Set 2. From this exploration of the translation process, what becomes evident about the two sets of English translations available for Set 2 is that the handwritten translations can be considered a first draft, and the published ones Gardner’s edited version.

The act of translation is one that depends heavily on the vision of the interpreter. Bacal, if he was the translator, did not look to provide a word-for-word interpretation but rather one that communicated what he saw as the larger meaning of the text. On the first page of the handwritten translations appears a note:

“Translation is made not in literal—meaning, but in the forms of aims and construction to be understood.”

Perhaps Gardner felt more inclined to diverge from the wording of the translator’s interpretation because it was a free rendering.
In addition to transliterations, translations, and transcriptions for sets 1 and 2, Indic Writings also provides these for the 6 bamboo cylinders in the collection written in 1938 by a Mangyan named Balik; please see the appendix of Volume 2, pp. 58-61.
Gardner found translating these items problematic:

“For some reason they are extremely difficult to translate. Many words are not to be found in our vocabulary. We have included tracings together with all possible information and tentative translations” (Indic Writings, Volume 2, p. 58).

Gardner is transparent about the limits of his knowledge and furnishes readers of Indic Writings with transcriptions in Mangyan script, Romanized Mangyan transliterations of the bamboo items, as well as translations in Tagalog for all 6 items and English translations for 3 of them (Cylinder 1, 2, and 6). The transcriptions and Romanized Mangyan transliterations are for the most part the same, with some minor variations in orthography. However, readers will notice that the published Mangyan transliteration of Cylinder 6 differs from that inscribed on the bamboo item itself in many portions. This discrepancy underlines the tentative nature of Gardner’s work on the Mangyan script.

Readers will be able to see the evolution of Gardner’s translation work when looking at a document that looks to be dated 1939 that Gardner sent the Library of Congress: two typed pages with English translations of 6 bamboo items numbered I-VI. These are in all likelihood translations of the 6 bamboo cylinders that came before the ones published in Volume 2 of Indic Writings (published 1940) since they touch on similar themes: a wedding ceremony and burial customs.

The translations in the typed pages do not match the ones published in Indic Writings but do overlap thematically. Given the uncertainty surrounding the translations of these items, readers would do well not to rely on them for an accurate interpretation of the Mangyan text. Additionally, readers will be able to appreciate the challenges of Gardner’s pioneering efforts, which represent one of the earliest serious studies of Mangyan script and literature by an American.