Ambahans inscribed on plants in a bamboo grove [Source: Antoon Postma]

The ambahan is the traditional poetry of the Hanunuo Mangyans of Oriental Mindoro. It is usually written on bamboo in the Surat Mangyan, a centuries-old pre-Spanish script. The syllabic script and the ambahan poetry have complemented each other, contributing to their continued existence today.

Reproduced here are three extracts from the work of Antoon Postma, anthropologist and Mangyan historian, and an ambahan anthology arranged according to the Hanunuo-Mangyan lifecycle.

Introduction to ambahan

Ambahans inscribed on a bamboo slat

The ambahan is a literary product and poetic expression of the Southern Mangyans of Mindoro, Philippines. Although there are about seven different ethnic groups living in Mindoro, collectively called the Mangyans, these groups are quite distinct from each other as to language, customs, and way of living. Only the ethnic group living in the south of Mindoro, roughly comprising the areas within the municipalities of Bulalacao (San Pedro), Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro and San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, claims the name Mangyan as the descriptive title of their tribe. To stress their point, they might add the epiteth: "Hanunuo" Mangyan, that is, a "truly, real, genuine" Manygan.

Together with their northern neighbors, the Buhids, they possess a pre-Spanish writing system, considered to be of Indic origin, with characters expressing the open syllables of the language. Two distinct syllabaries are still in practical use among the ethnic groups in Mindoro, viz. the northern Buhid on one hand and the southern Buhid with the Hanunuo-Mangyans on the other. The existence of a writing system among these tribes certainly accounts largely for the wealth of literature prevalent among them. One of the literary products, the one written down most frequently on bamboo-tubes or slats, is the ambahan.

For better understanding and appreciation of the ambahans presented here, a short outline on the character and use of the ambahan will be given here.

As a definition, it can be stated that the ambahan is:

  1. A rhythmic poetic expression with a meter of seven syllable lines and having rhythmic end-syllables.
  2. It is most often presented as a chant without a determined musical pitch or accompaniment by musical instruments.
  3. Its purpose is to express in an allegorical way, liberally using poetic language, certain situations or certain characteristics referred to by the one reciting the poem.

The meter of seven syllables in one line is the characteristic of the ambahan which most obviously distinguishes it from other kinds of Hanunuo-Mangyan poetry. However, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, more than seven syllables may be found at the beginning of the ambahan, especially when it starts with the standard expression magkunkuno (speaks, says) because the one who "speaks" here may have a long name containing more than the usual seven syllables. Actually, these first lines should not be considered as part of the poem proper, but rather as an introduction to or an explanation of the circumstances which gave rise to the ambahan itself. Sometimes, there may be more than seven syllables because the employed word or words cannot be shortened and no other combination of words is available. On the other hand, a line may contain less than seven syllables in order to preserve the meaning of the line itself which might be disturbed if more syllables were added. However, the last exception rarely occurs.

In an effort to conform to the rule of having only seven syllables in each line, the composer tries to fit his words within the pre-determined quantity of syllables. This accounts for the many elisions and contactions of words that make the reading of the ambahan in the Hanunuo-Mangyan script so difficult and exasperating to the translator. Thus nirwasan comes from niruwasan; nilkasan from nilukasan; the mono-syllables gin from ginan; u from una. Conversely, the words may be extended, i.e. syllables may be added in order to have the required seven syllables. In most cases, the normal procedure involves the use of affixes and suffixes, both of which are extensively used in the Philippine languages. The most common one in the Hanunuo-Mangyan language is the suffix -an. Manok becomes manukan, balunos becomes balunusan, without a change in meaning. Within the word, "extensions" may also be found which might be old infixes, no longer common. So dayap becomes dalayap, layaw becomes lugayaw. Another way of lengthening a word is by repeating the word itself, not so much to make it superlative in meaning (e.g. in Tagalog: laking-laki), but rather to complete the seven syllable requirement.

While it is not my intention to be technical on this point, as a linguist's analysis of morphological phenomena would be, the foregoing illustrations demonstrate that the prescribed scheme of seven syllables in ambahan verse gives ample opportunity for lexical calisthenics, an exercise which may fascinate many students.

The rhyming end-syllables are an essential feature of the ambahan. The most common rhyming syllable is -an, being a regular suffix for verbs and substantives in the Hanunuo-Mangyan language. But other combinations with the vowel a are rather common too, such as in lines having the end-syllables: a, ak, ag, ang, as, aw, ay. Here the vowel a is combined with nearly all the consonants in the Philippine alphabet. In the same way, the vowels I (or e) and o (or u) can be found as the rhyming syllables, either alone or in combination, e.g.: I, id, ing, ip, it, and o, od, ok, on, ong, os, ot, oy.

The rhyming in the ambahan is consequent, i.e. once started with -an, all lines will end in -an. This appears to be in contrast to the rhyming scheme of a Tagalog poem, where at the end of a line a vowel rhyme may include any consonant in combination with this vowel. The ambahan is stricter in this respect, though it is interesting to note that here and there consonants, if belonging to the same phonetic class, may be included as the rhyming consonant in combination with the rhyming vowel. Hence, the word inwag rhymes with ma-ayad because both g and d belong to the phonetic class of voiced stops. The word humbak rhymes with dagat because both k and t belong to the phonetic class of voiceless stops. The word sundong, lumon and tayutom are the end-syllables of one ambahan because ng, n, and m belong to the phonetic class of voiced sonorants. Of course, it is not because the Hanunuo-Mangyan knows anything about phonetics that these instances occur, but it is a fact that the interchanges of these consonants are not considered violations of the unwritten rules of the ambahan, provided that the vowel remains the same.

The ambahan is a chanted verse, but it is changed plainly or almost recited. The rendering of the ambahan with musical pitch might differ from person to person. Some might intone the words like in common conversation; others might use it a monotone recitation; or still others might sing it with a distinct melody. But generally, it can be said that when an ambahan is "sung," there is only a slight musical pitch discernable, except maybe towards the end, when the last syllables are drawn out a bit to indicate that the chant is about to end. Furthermore, it is well worth noting that the ambahan, is "sung" without the accompaniment of musical instruments, as differentiated from another kind of Mangyan verse, the urukay, which is preferably chanted to the accompaniment of the homemade guitar.

One who has a knowledge of the language of the Hanunuo-Mangyans as it is used in their daily conversation, will be able to understand very little of the language that is used in the ambahan. The language used in the ambahan differs from the spoken language, though many a word used widely in the daily Hanunuo-Mangyan language is also used in the ambahan-vocabulary. It is quite possible to compile a long list of words (eventually a complete dictionary) that are used only in the ambahan verse, but, for the purpose of this book, only a few words need to be mentioned.

Conversational language Ambahan language English
amang bansay father
inang suyong mother
danom kagnan water
balay labag house
niyog bu-anay coconut
bagaw duyan talk
mata pamidkan eye

That the words of the ambahan vocabulary are found not only in the ambahan of the Hanunuo-Mangyans but also in the literary products of the neighboring Mangyan tribes, seems to be a significant coincidence worth investigating, especially if it is remembered that these other tribes use a conversational language different from the Hanunuo-Mangyan language. Some questions that would confront the investigator are the following: Where do these ambahan words come from? Are there other dialects in the Philippines from which they may have been derived? Or do we have to turn our attention to other countries like Indonesia or India to get an explanation? Here is a potential field of research that should give a linguist enough material to work on.

In some of the ambahans here presented, it will be noticed that the theme is about a bird, a flower, a tree, or an insect. Other ambahans, though not nature poems in the strict sense of the term, deal with the sun, the moon, the stars, the rain and the wind. When a Mangyan poet writes of a flower, he writes of itnot for the purpose of celebrating its beauty or fragrance but to make it an allegory or a symbol of human life, it's problems, and its challenges. Sometimes the symbolism of a bird or flower may be clear enough, as when a boy talks to his girl about "a beautiful flower that he would like to bring home." Very often, however, one symbol may refer to different conditions or circumstances and, thus, becomes a multiple symbol. An examination of ambahan no. 114 will help clarify this point. What does the poem mean? First, it means simply what it says: "Be careful, or you will be stung by a bee. Take precautions in getting honey." This would be the literal interpretation of the poem. The added meaning of allegorical interpretation would depend, of course, on the occasion and circumstances, such as climbing a mountain, going to sea, going to town, engaging in a contest with another person, or going to the parents to ask for the hand of their daughter. The complex set of meanings thus woven into an ambahan are gradually unravelled only after the poem had been analyzed with much care and patience.

A related study which is worth mentioning at this point would be an investigation into the psychological motivation for the Mangyan's frequent use of plants, animals, and nature symbols and their predilection for allegorical poetry.

[Postma, Antoon SVD. Treasure of a Minority. Manila: Arnoldus Press, Inc., 1981.]

The origin of the ambahan

A Hanunuo-Mangyan woman chanting an ambahan at a community ambahan session [Source: Antoon Postma]

If you ask a Hanunuo-Mangyan, "Where did you get this ambahan?," he will most likely answer, "I copied it from somebody else." That is quite probable, for the ambahan has been popularized by being copied on any piece of bamboo, such as the container for tobacco or apog (lime), the scabbard or sheath of a bolo, a violin or guitar, and even on the bamboo beams of a house. When a Mangyan discovers a nice ambahan, he uses his knife to engrave it on bamboo, in the age-old Indic-derived script. Thus, he has "copied" it.

In answer to the same question, another Mangyan may reply, "We obtained this from our forefathers." Most of the ambahans they possess now have been handed down from parents to children through continuos copying. Yet there is no doubt that new ambahans are still being written today by the poets or composers, although it is hard to find out who these poets are. A Mangyan would never admit that he is composing ambahans.

To determine the approximate time in which an ambahan was written, two criteria may be suggested: the subject and the kind of words used.

The first criterion cannot be applied without reservation, for the subject of the ambahan is sometimes very general and true of any period. But if we find reference in the ambahan to Moro attacks or to Mangyans still living along the sea-shore, we are on surer ground, for the attacks of the Moros are known to have occurred at a certain time, and the Mangyans lived along the shores before the non-Mangyans settled on the island. On the other hand, when an ambahan poet writes of going to America, the poem is certain to have been written in modern times.

The second criterion, the kind of words used, is more reliable and, if used by experts, would be a more certain indication of the age of the ambahan. By using this criterion, ambahans may be categorized into three classes.

The first type is the ambahan that only uses the poetic language with a minimum of contemporary words. Sometimes common Hanunuo-Mangyan words are used, but this type of ambahan restricts itself mainly to the use of literary words, i.e. words not used in daily conversation. According to the Mangyans themselves, this is the oldest kind of ambahan.

The next type of ambahan is that in which words borrowed from neighboring tribes, especially the Buhid tribe, are used. Frequent contact with this tribe has made the Hanunuo-Mangyans accept these borrowed words and expressions which found their way into their ambahans.

Lastly, there is the ambahan of later times, in which loan-words from Spanish, Tagalog or Bisaya are evident.

The painstaking study by linguists of the words used in the ambahan may supply the final answer to the question of the time in which an ambahan was written.

[Postma, Antoon. Mangyan Treasures. Manila: Arnoldus Press, Inc., 1995.]

The ambahan and its uses

Hanunuo-Mangyan poems in the Mangyan syllabic script inscribed on betel nut containers made of bamboo

The ambahans are very common among the Hanunuo-Mangyans. About thirty percent of the Hanunuo-Mangyans do not read or write the pre-Spanish Hanunuo-Mangyan script, but it would be rare indeed for a Mangyan not to know the art of the ambahan. Of course, a Mangyan will quickly deny any knowledge of the ambahan, but this is only a polite way of refusing to demostrate such knowledge. People who have tried to collect ambahans will be the first to admit the difficulty of making the Mangyans recite the ambahans outside of the proper occasion for doing it.

Aside from the Hanunuo-Mangyans, the neighboring Mangyan tribes also know about the ambahan. Though the actual extent to which the ambahan is known by these other tribes has not been fully investigated, it is certain that this type of poetry is also common among the Buhid-Mangyans. The language of the Buhid is completely different from that of the Hanunuo-Mangyans, but one may still partly understand the literary products of the other. The ambahan can also be found among the tribes living deep in the mountains of Mindoro. These natives go down to the lowlands very rarely, and on one of these occassions I was lucky enough to acquire some copies of their ambahans. The Hanunuo-Mangyans do not understand much of it, except when exclusive ambahan words are used. However, before anything more authoritative can be said on this matter, one must explore the field further. The verse of the Iraya-Mangyans (in the north of Mindoro) is also very similar to the ambahan-type, i.e. they also have the characteristic heptasyllabic meter and rhyming end-syllables.

Ambahans are known and recited by Hanunuo-Mangyans, both old and young. Of course, different ambahans will be appropriate for different age groups.

The children definitely have their own kind of ambahans, something which might be considered as the equivalent of our nursery rhymes. However, even in these rhymes all the elements of the ambahan are present; the main distinction lies in the simplicity of the language used. The ambahans for children, however, are short, most of them containing not more than six lines.

A boy (kan-akan) and a girl (daraga) would be familiar with the ambahans fit for them, but once they are married, they would acquaint themselves with the ones that are appropriate for their new state of life.

Like all poetry, the ambahan is an expression of an idea or feeling in a beautiful and harmonious language. Unlike other forms of poetry , however, the ambahan is not poetry for its own sake or for the poet's satisfaction. The ambahan is primarily a poem of social character; it finds its true existence in society. It is created by the Mangyans to serve practical purposes within the community. It is used by the parents in educating their children, by young people in courting each other, by a visitor in asking for food and by a relative bidding goodbye or farewell. Of course, it would be a mistake to think that the Mangyans converse with each other only by the ambahan. If a man comes from his field, he would not use an ambahan to tell his wife that he is hungry; he will express the feeling of his stomach in plain and clear language. But generally speaking, the ambahan is used on those occasions when something embarrassing, unpleasant, delicate or even precious (as love) has to be said. For instance, a boy may tell a girl in plain language that he will never forget her, but it would sound so much nicer if he were to do so in an ambahan.

The social nature of the ambahan has given rise to a kind of verbal contest. Whenever Mangyans are together, a few of them (often the older generation) will eagerly compete with each other in the ability to recite the ambahan called for by the place and the occasion. Among these occasions are festivities held in connection with reburial. One Mangyan might challenge another with an ambahan, for example. This starts the contest. The people gather around the two contestants (without agreement, without rules, without bets), listening intently to the ambahans recited alternately by the two opponents. Each ambahan recited is an answer to the problem or theme propounded in the ambahan preceeding it. Both contestants are lustily cheered and encouraged by their supporters. In most cases, the one who recites last is declared the winner. The contest may go deep into the night. Whether one or the other wins is unimportant; what matters most is the entertainment derived from the contest.

A few final remarks about the translation of the ambahan may still be of interest. A researcher who happens to be in the mountains of Mansalay and becomes acquainted with the ambahan will become enthusiastic about it and may even want to translate some of them into his own language. But before he can translate the ambahan, he must study the ancient Indic script. After having mastered it well, he will find out to his dismay, that he still cannot read everything written on the bamboo. This is due to the fact that the script itself does not show the final consonant of each syllable. When he has overcome the disappointment, he will probably try to get an ambahan written down in clear, readable letters. Tape-recording the ambahan would take away the initial difficulties of copying from script. However, even then he will not understand all the implications of the ambahan unless the Mangyan can explain it.

In translating an ambahan, we find a special difficulty arising from the symbolic meaning of the words used. The Mangyan may supply the applied allegorical meaning but he might not understand the literal meanings of certain words. The meanings of these words can often be discovered because of the frequent use of repetition of ideas. Sometimes complete lines may be repetitions of the same idea in synonymous words.

Before the ambahan can be completely understood, it is imperative to collect as many samples of the ambahan as possible. This is the main work being done at present in this field. A detailed comparison of specimens, sifting and classifying words, and careful experiments in translating the words into another context have to be done by experts in this field of research. Only then will the ambahan emerge in the fullness of its beauty and signification.

The present anthology of ambahans is selected from a collection that started in 1958. In preparing this selection, it was not an easy task to decide on the best way of grouping or arranging these ambahans. It was finally decided to observe a dual system in classifying these Mangyan poems. The first system is to take the obvious and literal meaning as expressed by the poem. The second is the allegorical or applied meaning that can be gleaned from the ambahan. With this dual system in mind, the ambahans in this collection have been arranged according tot he life-cycle of the Hanunuo-Mangyans. Hence, this collection of ambahans starts with the cradle and ends with the grave. It is believed that this arrangement is the most satisfactory.

[Postma, Antoon SVD. Treasure of a Minority. Manila: Arnoldus Press, Inc., 1981.]

Ambahan: Birth and infancy

Since the aim of this collection of ambahans is to present a cross-section of the Mangyan poetic verse with respect to the life-cycle of the Mangyans, the first ambahans, to be chronological, should pertain to the first chapters of human life.

The following series of common cradle songs in ambahan style might be a fine illustration of how the songs can be different in rhyme and metaphor whereas the underlying theme is the same.

Ambahan 3
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 3

My dear baby, do not cry
'cause the wild cat might hear us!
The big one from over there,
with his awful long-stretched howl!
Helpless are we if he comes.
Our spear is broken still
and our bolo bent and blunt!

Huwag ka ngang umiyak
Hala ka at mapukaw
Pusang-ligaw sa gubat
Ngumiyaw, maghihiyaw
Wala kitang pambugaw
Sibat nati'y nawasak
Gulok nati'y nabingaw!

Ambahan 4
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 4

Don't be noisy, baby dear!
The wild iro might come here.
The one out of the deep woods.
How to fight him when he comes?
Broken is our spear in two
and our bolo disappeared!

H'wag ka ngang magulo
May laog nanunubok
Mula gubat susugod
Wala kitang panghamok
Sibat nati'y napulpol
Itak ay anong purol!

Ambahan 5
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 5

You, my baby, don't make noise!
Some strange animal might come,
coming from across the streams.
Knocking on the house, he will,
with his glittering sharp claws,
No weapons for us to kill;
our bolo we cannot use,
rusty is our spear and blunt.

Anak, 'wag kang ngumalngal
Hala ka, may bakulaw!
Sa dahilig do'n buhat
Tutuktok sa suliras
Kay tulis ng galamay
Wala kitang pamatay
Tong itak walang saysay
Kinalawang 'yang sibat!


Handwritten version of ambahan 3
Handwritten version of ambahan 4
Handwritten version of ambahan 5

Ambahan: Childhood

Sweet are the memories of our childhood. For the Mangyan child, it is a time of unconcern and carefreeness, even if the child has to take his share of the family duties to the measure of his capacities. It is with feelings of sentimentality and homesickness that a young man recalls the happy years of his youth that passed away too fast. It is also with pride that he remembers the love and kindness shown to him by his parents.

Ambahan 6 (4)
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 6 (4)

That time, when I was still young,
(I was just a baby still)
when I sat on mother's lap,
when she rocked me in a crib,
in a cradle newly made.
Mommy lulling me asleep,
did not leave me in a crib,
in her arms she cradled me.
Oh, how sweet these memories!
wish I could climb once again
in the cradle lovely made!
So I could be showing off
how I grew so beautifully!
You, the people from the shore,
people from the mountains too,
could you just come here this way!
Visit me just once again,
the unfolding, blooming tree!
I'll recall this all my life.

Noong ako'y muraan
Sanggol na sanggol pa lang
Karga pa sa kandungan
Inuugoy sa duyan
Sa kagagawang duyan
Hinehele ni Nanay
Hindi n'ya iniiwan
Sapo n'ya sa kandungan
O kay gandang nagdaan!
Muli sanang mahimlay
Sa banayad na duyan
Nang tunay kong mamasdan
Paglaki kong kariktan
Kayong taga-baybayan
Maging taga-burulan
Kung maaring puntahan
Pasyalan at pagmasdan
Punong namumukadkad
Alaala kailanman!

But there is also the obedient child who has his important task in the whole of the family work: watching that the products in the field will not be destroyed by the wild animals.

Ambahan 13
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 13

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.

Sanhi po ng paglakad
sa kabundukan
Ang bilin po ni Inang
Kay Ama'y kawikaan:
"Pumar'on iho't tingnan
Kaingin nating hawan
Baka matsi'y lamunan
Baboy ay mag-arumbang"
Akin nang pinuntahan
Kaingin nating hawan
Matsin ay wala naman
Ni baboy na ligaw man
Anu't aking namasdan
Merong ibong 'liitan
Sa kainging hinawan
Sa gilid na taniman
Baka bukas nandiyan
Pagdatal ng anihan!

Children, however, are the same everywhere. Romping around with their playmates, they produce a deafening noise, often to the despair of their parents.

Ambahan 15
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 15

Sure, the kids they are not bad,
but, say, who would not get mad!
When from morning until night
all this noise, right at your side,
and those fights on top of that!

Kahit bata'y mabait
Sinong di maiinis
Buong araw at gabi
Iritan d'ya't kagalit
Awayan d'yan sa inggit!


Handwritten version of ambahan 6 (4)
Handwritten version of ambahan 13
Handwritten version of ambahan 15

Ambahan: Adolescence

The transition from the dependent child into the self-sufficient young man or woman is not marked by initiation ceremonies or induction rites. In some things, children are given independence at an early age. In other things, they continue to act dependently.

Ambahan 27
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 27

Mother carried me around.
Father always at my side.
I, the baby, was still small:
just a little child I was.
Going to the field to work,
Father led me by the hand.
Even speaking simple words
as a babe I did not know.
But now everything has changed.
The small baby has grown up.
Now the baby understands
all the words that Father speaks,
Everything that mother says.
Even when I'm walking far,
when I travel far away
and it becomes dangerous
I'll return immediately.

Kinakalong ni Nanay
Kinakandong ni Tatay
Sadya pang kamusmusan
Tunay akong paslit lang
Hangang sa kaingin man
'Sinasama ni Tatay
Kahit pa utal-utal
Sanggol na walang muwang
Ngunit nang magka-minsan
Lumaki't magkagulang
Akin namang nalaman
Kay Tatay, kawikaan
Kay Nanay, kasabihan
Malayo mang lakaran
Saan man ang abutan
Kung kasam-an ang datnan
Sila lang ang uwian!

Then the day comes when adolescence ends. The parents know now that there is not much hope that the young people will do things the way the parents want them to do. The young man goes his way, and nobody can direct him anymore.

Ambahan 30
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 30

Says the lobster in the creek:
Even if you place a dam,
I will jump it high and neat!

Sabi ng hipong sapa:
Kahit mo man bakuran
May lusot, paraan pa!

The character of the youngster is fixed now. Even if there are traits the parents do not like, these traits can no longer be changed. Wherever he is, the young adult will behave in his accustomed manner and will not change his attitudes because of others.

Ambahan 31
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 31

Pigeon, with a shortened tail,
even there across the hills,
you won't be a nightingale!

Hoy, ibong Balud-balod
Libanin mo ma'y bundok
Pungos pa rin 'yang buntot!

Handwritten version of ambahan 27
Handwritten version of ambahan 30
Handwritten version of ambahan 31

Ambahan: Courtship

Many pages of sweet-flowing romances have been written about courtship, but the Mangyans create their own by using the examples of the budding and flowering plants and trees around them.

Ambahan 38
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 38

The bamboo in Marigit
That I saw at first approach
Was just sprouting and still small.
When I saw it yesterday,
It was standing firm and thick
Ready now to build a floor.

Kawayan sa Marigit
Pag tanaw ko, palapit
Labong pa siyang kay liit
Nang daanan ko pabalik
Siksikan mga tinik
Mainam nang pang-sahig!

Ambahan 39
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 39

The palm bordering my field
Back when it was very small
My attention did not call.
But now that it's fully-grown
and has shed its dried-up leaves,
I will harvest it so fresh
and weave me a basket fair.
That I can bring everywhere.

Buli sa may kaingin
Noong s'ya pa'y musmusin
Hindi ko pinapansin
Nang gumulang, pagsapit
Tanggi ko ang lumain
Sariwa kong kukunin
Bayong kong lalalain
Lagi kong sasakbitin!

A boy has his way of convincing a girl of his good intentions and intimate love. He is willing to sacrifice anything for his beloved.

Ambahan 68
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 68

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!

O liyag, aking hirang
Kanina nang lumisan
Galing sa 'king dingdingan
Palay na inanihan
Akin lang iniwanan
Hinangad kong katuwang
Di basta palay lamang
Sa lakad sa ilog man
Maging sa kaparangan
Kaakbay ko saan man
Kaabay sa higaan!

Handwritten version of ambahan 38
Handwritten version of ambahan 39
Handwritten version of ambahan 68

Ambahan: Home

To give a sample of all the various aspects of the home life within a Mangyan settlement would be next to impossible. However, an attempt to draw a general outline will be undertaken here. Two great themes can be considered of importance in the life-cycle of a Mangyan: 1) His struggle for life in and around his house, to keep hunger and sickness away; and, 2) His unbelievable ability to relax, be happy and unconcerned, often by escaping from his immediate surroundings.

What does a Mangyan home look like? His house is not as important as a house is to his countrymen of modern culture. A Mangyan will be the first to admit that his house is of poor construction and just a temporary dwelling.

Ambahan 102
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 102

This the forest Mangyan said:
"What I have to tell you, sir,
I've been thinking of for long:
Your existence is not bad
In the lowlands where you live.
There the houses that you have
Are built with beams of the best
Like your floors all made of wood.
But we to the mountains born
Who have lived here for so long,
Our houses are not like that.
Our floor is of bamboo built,
Our roof made of cogon grass,
All of it is tied with vines.
But to that I have to add.
Don't forget that we can live
Very near the water source
Where the birds all come to drink.
A cool, shady place to be."

Sabi ng isang Mangyan:
Ang wika ko'y pakinggan
Ito ngang kaisipan—
Mabuti ang 'yong lagay
Ikaw, taga-kapatagan
Kaya taga-baybayan
Tabla ay ilang-ilang
Nagsahig nang mainam
Kaming taga-burulan
Kaya nasa burulan
aming kabihasnan
Sahig ay patpatan
Kugon lang ang bubungan
May taling baling-uway
Datapwa't 'to'y pakinggan
H'wag naman kalimutan
Ibon sa may igiban
Bukal itong inuman
Na kay lilim kung tingnan!

After all, life is hard and a Mangyan has to spend most of his time eking out a subsistence for himself, so the house itself is of little importance.

Ambahan 103
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 103

Your condition is quite good
and your house is beautiful.
The walls made of banban leaves,
still enforced with bamboo poles.
But we, living out-of-doors,
we, the mountains dwellers up,
if we did not have to search
for some food to stay alive,
we could also be so wise,
we could also find these ways!
But the only thing we find,
is a sago palm for food!

Dampa mo'y kainaman
Bahay n'yo pong gandahan
May dingding na banban
Patukurang kawayan
Kaming nasa bakuran
Kaming taga-burulan
Di dapat paghanapan
Di dapat panghinaan
Wala pong karupukan
Di dapat manghinayang
Dahil masisilayan
Yaong buling gandahan!

Even if the construction is nice and strong, the day will come that the house will be torn apart by the ripping blasts of wind.

Ambahan 105
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 105

Climbing vine with the long leaves,
leaves symmetrical and fine,
how very nice looks your stem!
But, they say, you'll be blown down
by the tempest from the shore!

Hoy, uway na lambaan
Malamba ang dahon man
Ang puno'y kainaman—
Kung nasa daraanan
Bagyo'y galing 'patagan!

Handwritten version of ambahan 102
Handwritten version of ambahan 103
Handwritten version of ambahan 105

Ambahan: Problems

But at home, life is not always as pleasant as the Manygans would like it to be. There are dark days when the future doesn't look very bright. These dark days have to be overcome.

Ambahan 113
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 113

Balkawi, my climbing vine,
You're not happy in that spot
Your fine leaves are ripping there
And your poor stem creaks and cries.
I have to replant you now
In a place where you will thrive
Free from rain and gusty winds.

Hoy, punong Balkawihan
Pangit ang tinubuan
Dahon mo'y nangalagas
Puno mo'y langitngitan
Muling itanim na lang
Sa payapang hanginan
Sa walang daluyungan!

There are the domestic misunderstandings that might arise; the simple accidents that might happen.

Ambahan 115
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 115

Sticks from the balanti tree
If you cut them properly
From the depth they will resound.
But if cut improperly
All you get is awful noise.

Kalutang kong Balanti
Kung timbang iyang yari
Taginting ay mabini
Kung tabtab mali-mali
Sintunadong matindi!

There is no reason, however, to be as upset about a domestic misunderstanding or a simple accident as about a great disaster.

Ambahan 117
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 117

What is the matter with you
that you are so much upset?
Like the heavens coming down,
as if the whole sky collapsed!
Even rain will stop some day,
but rain doesn't own a house!
A storm will not last all time,
but storm has no place like you!
Are you not a human? Man?
Doesn't man always go back
to his dwelling place, his home?

Bakit ka nagkaganyan?
Ang ulo mo'y kay init
Bagsak ang kalangitan
Parang bayang guhuan
Pagtila nitong ulan
Ula'y walang tahanan
Hihinto ang ampiyasan
Hangi'y walang uwian
Di ba't tao ka naman
Di ba't may babalikan
Sa kawayang daluyan!

Handwritten version of ambahan 113
Handwritten version of ambahan 115
Handwritten version of ambahan 117

Ambahan: Sickness

Sickness is unavoidable in human life. A person who is ill can easily be recognized. Sometimes, whatever is done, all treatment seems to be in vain. But there is always a treatment that's been forgotten.

Ambahan 131
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 131

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 must 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.

Itong ulong makirot
Dinalit na't ginamot
Niritwal na sa bulong
Ayaw pong huminahon
Parang bagyong inikot
Laging unang lagunot
Lalo itong tumibok
Sa bunbunan paloob
Datapwa't iyang gamot
Ikaw, sa 'king pagsukot
Ay karamay kong irog!
Huhupa na ang kirot
Sa hangin ipasaklot
Sa gubat ipataklob
Lalaho na ang lungkot!

A serious condition might develop. The usual treatments are of little help.

Ambahan 132
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 132

Says Yumay, when feeling ill:
Daog, I am calling you.
I am coming all the way
to visit your house, Daog.
I would like to ask from you,
if you could apply your wit,
have me treated with your charms.
The main reason for all this:
my problem, my headache was
treated seven times in vain,
still the sickness doesn't go!
I am worried and I think
that this sickness will result
finally into my death.

Panawagan ni Yumay
Si Daog tawag tawag
Pakay niya sa lakad
Si Daog sa may dampa
Ako nawa'y tulungan
Sa bulong mong malakas
Sa mabisa mong dasal
Kaya nga nagkaganyan
Masakit ang uluhan
Pito mang patas-unan
Kirot pa'y palagian
Huwag sana, h'wag naman
Sakit waring hantungan
Tiyak na kamatayan!

Why don't the treatments work? Maybe all the requirements of offerings to the spirits were not properly fulfilled.

Ambahan 133
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 133

Says the spirit of the spring:
What has been your offering?
Softly cooked rice, there was none,
Not a chicken, even one!
Only some fruits from a tree!
What else could the answer be
but rains and a hurricane
hitting house and yard again.
What are you going to do?
Incantation might help you
or a seer and his wit!
Maybe he can solve your case
and prevent further disgrace.
Says the one responsible:
You, dear spirit of the well,
Please, do hide your angriness!
It's my fault, I do confess.
I'll bring the best from my floor
that you will complain no more.

Wika ng lamang-lupa
Apo Ilog nagbanta:
Handog na kani'y wala
Ni manok na 'hinanda
Bungang-kahoy lamang ba
Ambo'y umampiyas nga
Hangin ay hagunot na
Sa kabila ng dampa
Anong ibibigay pa
Bibigkas ng dasal ba?
Uusal ng dalit ha
Ganyang magmatigas ka
Hanggang katapusan pa!
Sumagot ang sinama:
Kayo, Poon ng sapa
H'wag kapootan nawa
Alay namin, dulog na
Sa sahig nagmumula
Sa sumpa po'y iadya!

Handwritten version of ambahan 131
Handwritten version of ambahan 132
Handwritten version of ambahan 133

Ambahan: Food and work

Obtaining food keeps the Mangyans busy for most of the year: selecting and preparing the field; sowing the carefully kept seed; weeding and cleaning the plants; harvesting the most precious food, cotton-white mountain rice. Unfortunately, an ideal harvest depends on an exact amount of sun, wind and rain. Often though, an extensive drought, a nasty typhoon or prolonged monsoon rains effect the opposite result, hardship and scarcity of food. It is therefore, no wonder that the Mangyans worry about their crops a great deal.

Rice is a food the Mangyans enjoy. After they have harvested their rice, it seems that there will never come an end to their supplies. But, before they realize it, gone is all their hope and happiness.

Ambahan 136
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 136

This kind of rice, Kabasag,
When I saw for the first time,
The stalks were heavy with grain.
When I returned and looked again,
Empty and flat were the heads!

Ang palay kong Kabasag
Nang minsan kong namatyag
Uhay ay sangkatutak
Nang balikan ko't tingnan
Uhay ay mangahungkag!

Ambahan 137
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 137

The little black bird Sawi,
So hereabouts its was told,
Had a tail long and pretty.
But the bird when it grew big,
Tail, alas, shorter it grew,
Struck by lightning as storm blew.

Ibong si Sawi-sawi
Noon pa man ang huni
Buntot, mahabang dili
Subalit nang lumaki
Buntot ko ay umiksi
Kinidlat, binuhawi!

Whether one likes it or not, it is necessary to work hard in order to keep his stomach filled. He has to work hard even if he has the help of the spirits.

Ambahan 139
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 139

Our good and precious soil:
Would it be as beautiful
if we did not work and toil?
Very soon it would be waste.

Ating lupang payapa
Paano pa gaganda
Kung di tayo gumawa
Dagli 'yang mawawala!

Handwritten version of ambahan 136
Handwritten version of ambahan 137
Handwritten version of ambahan 139

Ambahan: Traveling

As a relief from his struggle for life, the Mangyan sometimes goes traveling.

The moment will come when the Mangyan cannot be kept tied any longer to his house and the daily chores. He has to go, whether it is opportune or not. The woman, however, is not as fortunate as the man; she is tied to her home, especially when her children are still small. In spite of that, she would also like to go out once in a while. The parents should be, therefore, understanding and reasonable.

Ambahan 164
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 164

This journey that I must do,
Tell me please what's wrong with it,
And please explain how, indeed,
Father and mother dearest!
But then if there's nothing wrong,
Then why scold me for so long?

Iring aking pagpasyal
Kung mali po ang asal
Ako ay kagalitan
O Tatay ko, O Inay
Ngunit kung kawastuhan
H'wag sanang magtungayaw?

The following ambahan is a special bit of advice to those with the unpleasant ringworm skin disease.

Ambahan 166
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 166

Little bird, Balinayaw,
When the sun is fading fast,
Better not to walk outside,
For your colors will stand out
On the leafless Limpayaw!

Ay naku ibong Balaw
Kung pusyaw na ang araw
Huwag ka ngang galawgaw
Kulay mo ay lilitaw
Sa panot na Limpayaw!

Just as the speed of those who travel differs, so the character also differs.

Ambahan 178
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 178

Take my bird, the bidlawan,
whistling loud and flying far,
still he will always come back
to the house wherein we dwell.
But the bird alipasang
whistling loud and flying far,
he will not come back again
to the house wherein we dwell.

Ibong kong si Bidlawan
Sakaling ngang liparan
Babalik pa rin iyan
Sa 'ming dampang pugaran
Ang ibong layang-layang
Kung puma-ilanglang
Wala na pong balikan
Sa pugad na tahanan!

Handwritten version of ambahan 164
Handwritten version of ambahan 166
Handwritten version of ambahan 178

Ambahan: Hospitality and friendship

When a traveler arrives at a house he wont be afraid that he may not be welcome. Hospitality is considered the highest of virtues among the Mangyans.

Ambahan 181
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 181

My dear friend, be welcome here!
Where, perchance, did you come from?
From the seashore ebbing low,
from the bubbling water spring?
If from the water source up,
let us talk a moment here,
in a happy, friendly way.
Even whoever you are,
we like to be at your side.

Katoto kong matalik
Saan ka ba nanggaling
Sa baybayin bang gilid
Nasunson ba ng batis
Kung sa bukal ng tubig
Halina at magniig
Sa kwentuhan mong ibig
Di-kilala ma't batid
Makapiling ka'y lirip!

Sitting together on the balcony in the soft moonlight, the Mangyan feel inspired. Friendship is great!

Ambahan 198
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 198

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.

Kay liwanag ng buwan
Sa balkunahe'y sinag
Paano naging ganyak
Luningning ay busilak
Kung tao s'yang katulad
Pipigilan kong tiyak
Sa buhok, siya'y hawak
Siguro sa damit man
Pa'no mapipigilan
May buwang nakasinag
Bituing kumikislap
May bundok kinublihan
May hinamugang patag
May tuktok na pinugad.

The visitor will be home again, but the memory of his good friends will remain forever.

Ambahan 205
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 205

You, my friends, dearest of all,
thinking of you makes me sad.
Rivers deep are in between,
forests vast keep us apart.
But thinking of you with love,
as if you are here nearby
standing, sitting at my side.

Lugod kong kaibigan
Kung kita'y pag-isipan
May ilog sa pagitan
May gubat sa harapan
Ngunit kung pagbulayan
Parang nasa tabihan
Kapiling sa kandungan.

Handwritten version of ambahan 181
Handwritten version of ambahan 198
Handwritten version of ambahan 205

Ambahan: Marriage

Although the courtship period has a varied set of rules and ceremonials, the marriage itself is as simple as possible. After the consent of the parents has been obtained, the unceremonial first sleep of both the spouses together is considered as wedlock itself.

In the ambahan literature, a major part revolves around the perennial theme of married life and all its ramifications. After many years of living together, does the husband still remember his promise that he gave as an ardent lover?

When difficulties arise, the Mangyans try to smooth them out themselves.

Ambahan 210
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 210

If the ties you use at home
Become weak and tend to break,
You should be the one to mend,
The one to restore their strength.

Panali ma'y marupok
Uway iyan na gapok
Ikaw itong susubok
Magtitibay nang lubos!

The following advice is worthwhile to remember!

Ambahan 231
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 231

Even with disharmony
and a quarrel now and then.
No reason to separate.
Try to understand it first!

Kahit may kaguluhan
May tampuha't alitan
Di dapat talikuran
Unawain mo naman!

Parting for a longer period of time is sad for the couple.

Ambahan 234
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 234

My dear fragrant herb, my wife,
it is true, we have to part,
on this day and on this hour.
If united we remain
and our bond is strong and pure,
you and I, far as we are,
it's like holding hands again,
it's like sitting side by side.

Kab'yak kong halimuyak
Kita ma'y magkawalay
Ngayon at lumaon man
Kung buklod ay matibay
Maayos ang samahan
Ikaw nga at ako man
Magkahawak ng kamay
Wari'y nasa kandungan!


Handwritten version of ambahan 210
Handwritten version of ambahan 231
Handwritten version of ambahan 234

Ambahan: Old age

Sharing their love, the happy couple grows old together.

Old age in Mangyan society is not given special status and special privileges. As long as anyone is able to keep up, he is expected to take part in daily work. It is, therefore, not surprising to see the old and feeble people working side by side with the younger generations in the rice fields. However, the irrevocable advance of time is felt by the elder generation. It is something that can't be changed.

Ambahan 235
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 235

It's a fact we all know,
a truth wherever we go:
the sun in the afternoon
will be setting very soon.

Di ba't totoo naman
Katunayan saan man
Araw sa kataasan
Ay lulubog rin naman.

Among themselves, the older generation talk about the time when they will no longer be together. Will there still come another day after this night?

Ambahan 237
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 237

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.

Sa sandaling karimlan
Kahit kita magtipan
Sa banig na higaan
Pagsikat nitong araw
Talang maghihiwalay;
Buklod nati'y bibigay;
Pagkikita'y daratal
Paningi'y mapawi man
May bagong kaanyuan.

The thought of death is quietly accepted by a Mangyan. It is not the frightful and horrible event that is feared so much by the lowland Christians. For a Mangyan, death is part of the life cycle of every human being; it is looked upon as something that will bring a definite change in life, mostly for the better, not for the worst. Especially when the Mangyan gets old, he likes to think of death as the moment that will bring him back again to his beloved who went ahead of him.

Ambahan 242
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 242

Says the man, already old,
thinking of life after death:
When I leave, it will 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.

Wika ng isang Mangyan
Isip ang kamatayan
Kung yayao't papanaw
Sipol akong hihiyaw
Sa landas sa 'bundukan
Kung dumatal ang asam
Pagtagpo natin hirang
Sa usal ay puspusan
Papanaw nang tuluyan

Handwritten version of ambahan 235
Handwritten version of ambahan 237
Handwritten version of ambahan 242

Ambahan: Death

When physical life comes to an end, the soul departs for another place.

The moment of dying, this singular experience, is vividly remembered afterwards by the soul, especially if death came during an agonizing circumstance.

Ambahan 246
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 246

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.

Taghoy ng kaluluwa:
Kanina nang lumisan
Sa dampa kong tahanan
Katawan ko'y naghihirap
Sa banig na higaan
Di pa lumilisan
Balisang nagpaalam
Pa-biling-biling naman
Pakaliwa't pakanan
Sige na nga kung ganyan
Ako na ay lilisan
Liligo sa hugasan
Sa tubig dalisayan
Sa bago kong hantungan
Sa tabihan ni Amang
Kapiling na si Inang!

Tragic, also is the Mangyan who died out of misery and chagrin because of the hardship he had to deal with! We do not know what his problems were or who caused them, but that he had some is clear from his explanation!

Ambahan 251
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 251

These are the words of the soul:
Who would finally not complain!
My house on the mountain slope
in the darkness of the night,
hurricanes were howling loud.
When the sun was in the sky,
the shower came lashing down!
All the southern typhoon winds,
all the north-western storms,
my house they were hitting hard!
That was exactly the case.
No wonder I left the place!

Hinagpis ng kalul'wa:
Sinong di masasaktan
Bahay ko sa tarikan
Kung gabi at karimlan
Ang hangin ay bugsuan
Kung araw ay sikatan
Ambon ay ampiyasan
Saklot ng habagat man
Pispis nga ng amihan
Tutok doo't bugsuan
Kang ganyan rin nga lamang
Sa dampa na'y lilisan

All this information comes from the realm of the dead, furnished by the deceased themselves! Communicating with the souls or spirits of the dead is nothing extraordinary for the Mangyans. These are those persons who possess the power to strike up a conversation with the spirits by means of a medium or daniw. The conversation resembles a séance among spiritualists.

The Mangyan who grieves about the death of a dear one likes to avail himself of the services of a daniw in order to see if the soul of the deceased cannot be convinced to come back and join his earthly body again. Positive results are said to be known, but they are not recorded in the ambahan verse. The ambahan samples available only relate the failure of the daniw and the decisiveness of the soul to continue his course in the other life.

Ambahan 252
Hanunuo-Mangyan English Filipino
Handwritten version of ambahan 252

Says the seer's medium:
You, soul, can you tell me please,
why is it you were so scared,
that time when you left the house?
Wasn't a spirit from the woods?
If so, I took care of that
through my prayers very strong
and the incantations too!
Your fears should have disappeared,
since the Evil one is gone.
All the more, it's long ago
that I caged him through my strength.

Ang wika nitong Daniw:
Kalul'wa, hoy sabihin
Takot ka ba at bakit?
Sa tahana'y umalis
Kung malignong gubatin
Ligtas nating talunin
Sa lakas ng dalangin
Sa tindi ng humigmig
Tuloy kang manahimik
Maligno'y gagapusin
Ngayon at noon mandin
Sa dunong bibihagin!

Handwritten version of ambahan 246
Handwritten version of ambahan 251
Handwritten version of ambahan 252