By KIMBERLIE OLMAYA NGABIT QUITASOL
Kawayan sa may inwag (Kawayan sa sukalan)
Labong una naragdag (Dahon man ay lagasan)
Puon danga lungalag (Puno, ‘wag pangambahan)
Panggamot di maayad (Ugat mo ay kay tatag)
Sa daga mabanayad (Sa lupaing banayad)
History tells us that the Spaniards, in the name of Christianity destroyed all written documents, idols and everything else they labeled as pagan and marginalized the indigenous peoples in the Philippines who refused to bow before the Spanish crown. The Spanish conquistadores have created a gap between the lowlanders (Christianized) and the highlanders (Unchristianized).
Over the years the lowlanders have looked down at the highlanders, now called indigenous people because of the misconceptions of their culture, customs and traditions. The Mangyans are among those indigenous peoples that have been and remained marginalized.
Like the bamboos that survived the ever changing environment of the world, the Mangyans of Mindoro despite the odds were able to keep alive their cultural heritage which include the original form of writing of their forefathers from centuries ago.
The poem above is among the over 20,000 ambahan (an ancient Mangyan poetic form) written in Mangyan Script collected and transcribed by Dr. Antoon Postma. The oldest ambahan in his collection is over 200 years old and the Mangyans of Mindoro particularly the Hinunuo and Northern Buhid are still using their original script until today.
Postma, a Dutch anthropologist spent almost 50 years studying and learning the Mangyan Script and culture.
In a lecture series held at the University of the Philippines Baguio last January 26, Lolita Delgado Fansler from the Mangyan Heritage Center Inc. shared that over 600 hundred years prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, people living in the Philippines had “at the very least a legal culture and were writing it down.”
Fansler said the Laguna Copperplate proves that the peoples living in the Philippines hundreds of years before the Spanish conquest were living well. She further said the copperplate, now displayed at the National Museum that contains a “unique mixture of Sanskrit, Old Java and Old Malay and Old Tagalog” decree of the Chief of Tundo forgiving a man of his debt is dated back to 900AD.
According to Fansler, there are two existing Mangyan Scripts, the Northern and Southern scripts. The Northern Script is used by the Northern Buhid-Mangyans. She said the Southern Script is being used by the Southern Buhid and Hanunuo-Mangyans.
She added that both scripts have 18 basic characters, however the Northern Script are more rounded while the Southern Script are more angular. She explained that the Mangyan Script characters represents a full syllable, consisting of a single vowel and a pair made up of a consonant and vowel. She said Mangyan words often end with vowels. She also said Mangyans do not have commas, periods and capital letters.
Moreover, Fansler pointed out that the Mangayn writing could be read from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and vice versa depending on the material used and the writer.
Unfortunately, Fansler claimed that the Mangyan script faces the threat of extinction as more and more young Mangyans do not use their own writing. She said as Mangyans learn the Roman alphabet in school they tend to forget their own script.
“Why, these Mangyan children ask, should they learn Mangayan script when they have a hard enough time learning Pilipino and English, and when the (Roman) alphabet is more widely used?” she narrated.
Fansler shared that ancient syllabic writing systems of the Philippines were declared National Treasures and inscribe in the World Registers of the UNESCO in 1999. “But these are only pieces of paper unless we help and encourage these indigenous people to continue learning and using their scripts despite the challenges of modernity,” she added.
The Mangyans were able to preserve their culture and writing until today. “For as long as the bamboo is deeply rooted on the ground it shall survive. For as long as the Mangyan continues to write their ambahan on bamboo slabs it shall live on. So let the bamboos grow abundantly and the Mangyan write his ambahan unhampered”. # nordis.net