Thursday, October 02, 2008

If the pot could talk....

The UP Archaelogical Studies Program, The National Museum and the UP College of Arts and Letters yesterday hosted the "Ang Sulat sa Palayok: A symposium on the Calatagan Pot" at the Recto Room of Bulwagang Rizal (for old UP alums in the archeological record, this used to be the FC!) The Calatagan Pot is the only evidence we have (with the archeological context) about pre-colonial writing. On the pot's rim are several verses in baybayin, the ancient Philippine script.

The pot was unearthed in 1961 in Calatagan, Batangas by the National Museum.

That Filipinos were literate was first documented by the Spanish friar missionaries,whose first task was to write and translate Catholic prayers from Latin to the Philippine languages. The first catechism The "Doctrina Christiana" is written in Roman letters and baybayin.

But since we can easily read the Roman letters with the baybayin, we can easily know what sounds the baybayin symbols represent. Also we know the direction the friars wrote the script. But in the circular pot, we don't know the direction where the symbols are written. But the general consensus is from right to left. Also many of the symbols seem to have no counterparts in the friar documentation of the scripts.

PCIJ has a report on the attempts to decipher the pot's script and their modern Filipino translation . The pot's script has been deciphered first by Guillermo Tolentino, the famed sculptor of UP's oblation and Andres Bonifacio in Caloocan. Tolentino had contacted the spirit world in a seance to get the meaning of the pot. More recently, Dr Ramon Guillermo of the UP Filipino department, Dr Zeus Salazar, former dean of UP CSSP and Dr Quentin Oropilla, a physician who teaches at ASP have provided translations.

Guillermo's translation used a well known cryptographic technique while Oropilla's follows a more strict approach. Oropilla's decipherment of the script tells of a ritual prayer for a pestilence (related to a precolonial eruption of Taal volcano) and this according to him is closest to today's Pangasinan language.

We don't really know what language the script represents but many people assumed it was Tagalog. But reading Guillermo's decipherment, the script seems to represent very old Tagalog. Some words are easily understood by today's Tagalophones but some are not. Guillermo's rendering is closer to Bahasa Indonesia.

Anyway this Tagalog is different than the old Tagalog translation by Jaime Tiongson of Pila, Laguna of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI). I can understand much of what the LCI means provided I have a "malalim na Tagalog" dictionary. The friar dictionaries provide the meanings.

But that would be a subject of another post. But the symposium as expected did not come to a consensus. Academics and historians clashed on what the symbols represent, what language should the symbols be read and which direction should the lines be read.

The pot shows how ancient and mystical our literary tradition really is. It remains a mystery. This made me think that Tolentino's seance may be not be a bad idea after all!

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