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Collection Mangyan bamboo collection from Mindoro, Philippines, circa 1900 to 1939

About this Collection

The 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 verse 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”.

This 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: Ildefenso 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. Only one item (Item A1 of Set 1) in the collection was written by Sikadan, Chief of Pokanin and Pangalkagan.

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 of Set 1), as well as those in other collections such as the Ayer Collection of the Newberry Library in Chicago. The third, is a Mangyan vocabulary and grammar by Gardner. Transliterations and translations provided in the digital presentation of the collection were taken from Indic Writings. It is important to note that these transliterations and translations should be considered works in progress. Gardner acknowledged difficulties in arriving at accurate translations of items and was transparent about the methodology he applied—working from free translations rather than word-for-word interpretations provided to him by partners in the Philippines, and a card catalogue containing more than 5,000 words for comparison and correction.

Readers can glimpse this process in the remaining items in the collection: typed and handwritten transliterations and translations accompanying the bamboo slats and cylinders. These are drafts of Gardner’s published work on the collection and provide a window into the evolution of Gardner’s translations. 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.

For more detailed information about the collection and background information on the Mangyan—an umbrella term that refers to several indigenous communities on the island of Mindoro—and their literary traditions, please see the research guide on this collection, or contact Southeast Asian reference staff using the Library’s Ask-a-Librarian service.