Antoon Postma’s Treasure of a Minority

Photos form Postma’s Treasure of a Minority: The Mangyans in the Philippines write on bamboo. Photo on right is of two Hanunoo-Mangyan girls.

Antoon Postma, a Dutch anthropologist, did significant research about the poetry and culture of the Hanunoo people, a Mangyan sub-tribe in the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. He lived amongst and married into the Hanunoo and produced a large amount of work recording and preserving their culture. Postma recorded hundreds of ambahans, a traditional poetic form of heptasyllable lines of variable length that is chanted in social gatherings.

I was able to obtain a copy of Antoon Postma’s Treasure of a Minority.  This book gave me so much pride and joy in the literary creativity of this tribe in the Philippines. As I have written about before, these poems are beautiful and humble, with Haiku-like imagery and Dickinson-like wit. Postma recorded thousands of these poems, of which 261 were chosen in this book. Organized by the life cycle of the Hanunoo, the book begins with birth and childhood, ending with sickness and death.

Reading these poems gives a beautiful picture of the life and wonder of the Hanunoo and Filipinos in general. You can see nature as an intimate part of the Hanunoo life: monkeys, gray wagtails, pigs, bees, and fish teem with life. Howling hurricanes, floods, monsoons, rivers, bamboo, mountain sides, and low-land shores span the breadth of this book. Humble acts such as washing your hair, lying on sleeping mats, pounding rice, whistling, and smelling herbs are interspersed as charming gems in between. The pains of sickness, headaches, the quarreling of married couples, and the feelings of being rejected from your love are also recorded. Some of the poems of death are so touching and refreshing that you can feel the level of peace the Hanunoo culture treats the end of life.

Below are a few of my favorite ambahans. Since so little information exists on the internet, I thought it wise to share to inspire others. Please purchase the book on Amazon. Although, the copies I saw were all from the 1970s, the poems are beautiful still! (Also of note, the language is of the Hanunoo-Mangyan, which is one of the native languages of the Philippines.)

Childhood

 
13
Tiklang nakan nigsayan
Balistay pagbuludan
Suyong kis-ab panangdan
Bansay kis-ab panduyan
Ha pamatlay nga ginan
Kantam gawi aghuman
Dulakit bang kinmamgan
Ibyok bang tinmagudngan
Ho namatlay nga ginan
Kantam gawi aghuman
Dulakit didwag kamgan
Ibyok didwag tagudngan
Kang bay nga magkamanman
May igiw nawa naw-an
Babaw aghom bunglayan
Saroy saroy aghuman
Banta imaw wi aban
Ti lumuyon bungguan
 
The reason why I am here,
walking along hills and vales
because Mother has told me
and my father he just said:
“Better go and have a look,
at the field we have prepared.
Monkeys might be eating there
and the pigs destroying plants.”
So I went and had a look
at the field we have prepared.
But no monkeys eating there,
and no pigs destroying plants.
However, what I did see,
was a bird, still rather small,
sitting on the field we have,
at the borders of the field.
Maybe one day it’ll be there
when the rice is ripe and fair.
24
Kang manok si tigbaya
Nakan magbaya-baya
Nangitlog basad taya
Ga namayo tigudwa
 
My bird called the Tigbaya,
is as happy as can be.
Laying eggs in a nut-shell nice!
Like two persons pounding rice!
26
Magkunkuno ti pispis bahayaw
Suyungan bay suyungan
Kawo hayga lantangan
Sugkad bato hagnayan
No kumon kumon way man
Ako ma-abangdayan
Sa sirig arupadngan
Sa siwalo buhukan
Magkunkuno kay ina
Linsingan bay linsingan
Suyong nakan lantangan
Sugkad bato hagnayan
Mamukpok kang daluntan
Agod mahimanmanan
Tawo taga baybayan
Tawo tupo dangyahan
Kang maglinyawan banban
 
Cries the bird, complainingly:
Mother, oh, my mother dear,
why so long you stayed away
down the rocks at Hagnayan?
I was waiting all in vain.
Almost I was dragged along
by the howling hurricane
by the hair, that got untied.
Mother answered in reply:
Oh, my dearest baby boy,
Mother stayed so long away
down the rocks at Hagnayan.
I was just washing my hair
so I could be showing off
to the people from the shore
people from the mountains too,
that my beauty is still fair.

Adolescence

 
29
Magkunkuno si Ganay
Magtalok kay bagakay
Kawo kang pagbilinan
Kawo bagakay naban
Kawo no magtubuan
Danga sa pagdangyahan
Pag sis runong ratagan
 
Remarks Ganay, counseling,
when planting the useful reed,
this is my advice to you:
You, a reed so fine and strong,
when one day you will grow up,
don’t stay where it’s hard to live.
In the plains do build your house.

Courtship

 
48
Kalansiw kalandagan
Napadna sa sugkadan
Lakaw kinuyankuyan
Nakan kinuyankuyan
Magbanta kay abyagan
May sa maglinong kagnan
May sa unay maghagan
 
Look the Kalansiw bird there;
he just came down in the yard,
walking so uncertainly.
Maybe he walks just like that
because he is not so sure,
whether to the quiet lake,
or the running stream he’ll go.
68
Salod anong bugtungan
Kis-ab kang mag-iginan
Ginan kang tipit lingban
Bunggo madi uyunan
Kang di tinalisigan
Kang bay nga pagsumayan
Padi man ga bungguan
Una sa unay kagnan
Una babaw aghuman
Kang ka-abay sag lan-gan
Ka-ugbay sag ranukan
 
My sweetheart, my love so dear,
when I left, in coming here,
coming from my house and yard;
all the rice that I have stored,
I have left it there behind,
because I hope here to find
one more valued than my rice!
One to be my partner nice
to the water, to the field,
a companion on my trips,
and one who will share my sleep!
74
Anong salod bugtungan
Inda kanta nag-amban
Katpungan pagsudungan
Palhitan di sa lagban
Sa kiling sa kawayan
Sarin man pagmagsan-an
Dalan man ulitangan
Labag man hambuyungan
Sumay bay yaya diman
 
My sweetheart, so nice and fair,
we have now agreed all right
just now at this hour of night.
Have it written on the wall,
write it on the bamboos tall!
And wherever we will meet,
on a trail or on a “street”,
in a hut or in a house,
one day I will be your spouse.
75
Si isda batod-tigi
Hinton ti ud mawili
Baras ga pinasiri
 
Look at the fish in the creek!
Fully of joy and glee and cheer.
Fine is the sand, white and clear.
77
Kawayan sa tumalo
Kawo no kang itudlo
Kawo balaw dumayo
Hurok nakaburino
Ga panabasan panyo
 
Bamboo bush along the stream;
if I would show it to you,
you would like the glossy gleam.
Beautiful the young shoots too,
like a headdress cut supreme!

Sickness

 
131
Kang bay buyong sangdulan
Binahawa yi sangdan
Linandoy yi subungan
Buyong didwa ka-uman
Ga bagyo ud hubungan
Ga uran ud maghawan
Bagkos buyong garmayan
Babaw sa isangdulan
Hanggan tig pa-urugan
Ka nog halaw nga malngan
Sinta duwa gaypudan
Buyong hampay malungan
Paslayawan sa amyan
Palakipan sa kaywan
Sa ud ma-umbalawan
 
This my problem, my headache,
I had called the doctors all,
had it treated frequently
but my headache didn’t go.
Like the storm not calming down,
like the rain that doesn’t stop
it was even getting worse:
my head almost cracking up.
But the final medicine,
why did I not think of it?
We most love each other more.
Then the problem will be gone,
carried along by the wind,
covered by the forest trees,
and we will be sad no more.

Food & Work

 
144
Kang kaparay kabasag
Na-uyang di nabus-ag
Kang nitakid sa inwag
Kang buot nalungalag
 
The kabasag rice I had
got all scattered on the ground,
when the bag got hooked on thorns.
I was shocked and very sad.
153
Kang isda si indangan
No umudto ti bulan
Ako palawod maan
Nakan palawon maan
Barang laya masakpan
Tunda laya panamban
Sinubong kay bahayan
Kay pamato bulawan
 
Indangan, a river fish:
If the moon stands high and bright,
I’ll go to the flood tonight,
to the river where I’ll catch
with my net, some white-skinned fish.
With a special kind of net;
the sides are just like a house,
glossy stones will weight it down

Friendship

 
198
Anong si kanaw bulan
Sinmalhag sa rantawan
Kabiton lugod ginan
Salhag mabalaw diman
No ga tawo di ngaran
Kang way inunyawidan
Buhok ngatay tawidan
Palaylay ngatay huytan
Unhunon sab araw man
Tida ti kanaw bulan
Tida kuramo diman
May bantod pagpaday-an
May ratag pagrun-ugan
May ili pag-alikdan
 
Look! The moon so full and bright,
Shining in front of the house!
How can you explain to me,
that the rays are soft and cool?
If a man like us he were,
I would hold him by the hand!
Seize the hair to keep him back!
Grasp the clothes to make him stay!
But how could I manage that!
It is the moon in the sky!
The full moon shining so bright,
going down beyond the hills,
disappearing from the plain
out of sight behind the rocks.

Marriage

 
209
Kawayan sa may inwag
Labong una naragdag
Puon danga lungalag
Panggamot di maayad
Sa daga mabanayad
 
Bamboos with the climbing vine,
even if the leaves fall down,
the trunk will be strong and fine.
Firmly rooted, straight they stand,
in the good and fertile land.
210
Tayiktik una lut-an
Uway una matpukan
Kawo ti pa-urugan
Kawo tig suod duyan
 
If the ties you use at home
become weak and tend to break,
you should be the one to mend,
you the one to strengthen them.

Old Age

 
235
Nos anod di anod wan
Nos anod ti tuo wan
Kayaw toy was lanbungan
Kayaw ambaba yi man
 
It’s a fact that we all know,
a truth wherever we go;
the sun in the afternoon
will be setting very soon.
237
Katpungan pagsudungan
Kita una magkaban
Babaw apnig bariwan
Saruray no humagan
Kiblagan yi kuramwan
Sulbadan yi suudan
Magkabta araw uman
Pamidkan dimlisig wan
Patlay saghaya yi man
 
At this hour of the dark night
we are still together now
on the woven sleeping-mat.
But when the sun rises soon,
and the stars become detached,
our bond might break up too.
When we’ll ever meet again,
it is not with mortal eyes,
but the eye-sight of the soul.
238
Magkunkuno si yumay
Kitoy wangkog girangan
Kitoy yamog sarawan
Patlay pagmalion wan
Tukaw pagmahumlag wan
Ho bay maskin nagduyan
Uyaw no tumimaan
Uyaw gis daga-sayan
Agruman dagaynaan
 
Yumay, the old woman speaks:
I am really getting old,
and your age is close to mine.
One day it will be our fate
that we have to leave this place.
I am telling you, that once
the big flood, remembers well,
the flood from the underworld
will bring us below the earth
241
No ka girang bagtuhan
No bagog raynaw banban
Pagmalikidon lan-gan
Dapat kang di nga duyan
Una agub-ob ligwan
Una daging putyukan
No may bunglo sa gus-an
Aton makaguhitan
To abadyawon duyan
 
I am an old bamboo bush
but you are a tender twig,
always going, visiting.
Let me give you this advice:
even if you see the tree
with the honey-comb of bees,
if somebody made his mark,
do not claim it for yourself.
It means trouble, quarreling.
242
Magkunkuno ti tawo
Kay tabog ngap mamatay
No atag sano diman
Kang magraywan magraywan
Babaw babaw buludan
No ngatay sano aban
Nagtungpanan sabungan
Ariwan durirungan
Para ubli mambon wan
 
Says the man, already old,
thinking of life after death:
When I will leave, it’ll be nice.
I will whistle, I will yell
on the highest mountain peaks.
Yes, one day I will be glad;
I will see my wife again!
Many things we’ll have to say!
Then I won’t want to come back.

Death

 
246
Magkunkuno ti karadwa
Kang kis-ab mag-iginan
Ginan kang tipit lingban
Apwan mambon mambu-nan
Babaw apnig bariwan
Ud paway sa gihitan
Halaw nangitlagan wan
Kasanggaling sa siknan
Kahabog sa ulangan
Taghilyan di kumon wan
Kang apwan sa humagan
Manrikuyan manrigsan
Sa danom magka-uman
Bag-o paligbuyungan
Kan bansay nag-abyagan
Kan suyong nalan-ganan
 
Says the soul remembering:
Just a while ago at home,
in the house I used to stay,
My body was really bad,
lying sickly on the mat,
though not ready yet to go.
Scared to death I really was!
I was going to the right
and to left, back and forth!
So confused I was that time!
Now, my body laid at rest,
finally I took a bath
in the waters for the soul.
I am starting on my way
to the place my father went,
and where mother joined him, too.
258
Ti maglandoy subungan
Ti magbahawa sangdan
Paglandoy yi subungan
Pagbahawa yi sangdan
Ak bay nakan magduyan
Widwid bay padayo wan
Babaw pungso agdanan
Payi managublian
May pinagka-anyagan
Sa kamangi bungguan
 
If they want to do their best
with their prayers said for me,
let them go ahead with it,
may their prayers have effect!
I only want to say this:
the widwid bird will go on
to the mounts of Agdanan.
He will not come back again.
He wants very much to get
plenty of  kamangi herbs.
259
Magkunkuno kan damay karadwa
No kis-ab paglumbadan
Tida di mana ginan
Kan damay pandagdagan
Ili matagaytayan
No ka bay kitay duyan
U di sumpong pamidkan
Lantang mangalablitan
 
The soul of Damay explains:
It was a long time ago
that the sad event took place;
the soul of Damay has left
for the upper mountain ridge
Now it is too late for help.
Even if the eyes will meet,
nevermore the hands will touch!
260
Magkunkuno ti karadwa
Padi tugon gabangan
Padi sangdan hidlawan
Gistay bay aban ginan
Likik ud di pa-uman
Nakan kis-ab sugutan
Nagsibayan yadiwan
Unay lindo wasigan
 
The soul bidding his farewell:
I go, no in angriness;
I leave, but I am not sad.
It is just that from now on
I will no longer come back.
That’s the way it has to be!
When a river splits apart,
each stream follows its own course!
261
Kanmi bay paglabagan
Kawo no ud katim-an
Padi nga sitay adngan
Luwas way lugayawan
May takip waya amyan
Alintapukan uran
 
Our house here on this side,
maybe you don’t know it yet,
it’s not built upon the earth.
Far outside heavens it stands!
Farther than the places where
the storms and the rains come from!

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