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In my previous post  I have presented the ‘tentative’ reading of the Calatagan pot inscription by Guillermo and Paluga [1]. In this post, I write the authors’ test that made them endorse their reading.

The authors think that the reading should be tested by the following: 1) lexical coherence and simplicty; 2) historical emplotment; and 3) sociological mapping or embeddedness.

Calatagan pot inscription (circular, original; linear, by the authors). The circle is the rim of the pot. Courtesy: Guillermo, J. Southeast Asian Studies 42, 2011.

Here is the reading:

Gana Bisa Kata 
Duna kita’y halabas 
Yawa, sala, kakaga 
Yamyam la ni Manugdait 
Kita sana magbasa 
Barang king banga

and the translation,

Gana Bisa Kata [Powerful is Gana’s Word]
We have a sword
Evil, faults, falsehood
Just chant this, Shaman(s)
Let us read the signs
Spell/power of this pot!

The first line Gana Bisa Kata  has a mixed Malay-Javanese origin. Bisa  is related to the Sanskrit term visá which means ‘to be possible’ , to the Javanese ‘can, to be able to do something’, to Malay ‘poison’, and to the Tagalog ‘power, potency, activity, efficacy, or snake venom’.  A word which has roughly the same meaning most probably has the same origin.

Kata is also a Sanskrit word which means ‘word’ or ‘says’ in Malay and is related to ‘katha(fiction)’ and ‘makata(poet)’ in Tagalog.

The authors also note that gana, bisa, and kata are present in the Balinese language and translate to ‘Dewa Ganesha (‘power’ and ‘word’).’ 

“The strong degree of the internal textual coherence gravitating around the lexical domain of ‘words’, ‘objects’, and a ‘collective subject'” can be seen from the Lexical coherence diagram according to the authors.  They say that it also helps that there is a repeating first person plural pronoun ‘kita (we)’ and that there is a sound grammatical formation for the text.

Lexical coherence diagram. Courtesy: Guillermo, J. et al, Southeast Asian Studies 42, 2011.

The second test is also quite interesting. Guillermo and Paluga enumerate:

1.   Gana pertains to a Hindu deity Ganesha.  The deity is historically popular in Indonesia in the 8th – 15th century. Ganesha is the god whose aid is enlisted before any task is undertaken which includes the worship of  other deities.

Avalokitesvara-Padmapani, Courtesy: http://www.iccrindia.net/conferences.html

There is a copper Ganesha medallion that was found in Mactan, Cebu that is dated to the 12th century while there is also a clay image of Avalokitesvara-Padmapani found in Calatagan that is dated in the 14th century.

2.  The word ‘halabas’ means to ‘cut down’ or ‘wipe out of existence’.  This word resonates with Ganesha being the deity who removes obstacles and as the destroyer of the enemies of god.  In their translation, the authors emphasize ‘halabas’ as a weapon.

3. Manugdait comes from Dait or Daitan, the pre-hispanic Visayan term for babaylan. Dait means ‘friendship and peace’.  

But why the kudlit in the ‘da’ in the fifth line and why is it read as ‘dait’? According to the authors, the ‘di’ (as it should be read because of the kudlit) is actually a sort of shortcut of the diptong ai/ ay. Examples are aywan and ewan, taynga at tenga etc. that are very common in Tagalog.

4.  Communal rituals.  The Kita which means ‘we’,  signifies that there is a ‘gathering of many’ with the dait as the leader of the gathering .  These have been documented in the 17th century Visayas.

5. Magbasa and yamyam are the prehistoric roots of the present day fondness of oracion.

The Calatagan pot with inscription stands alone in the hundreds of pots dug in that area. The authors ask, “IF it’s not FAKE, how do we account for its rarity?”  This is how they test the sociological embeddedness of the inscription.

The authors offer two answers. One, that there is a need to dig more and two, that this Calatagan pot was “not originally intended to be in the context of burial but as an alpha-object.” The second one automatically suggests that it is rare.

The ‘alpha-object’ hypothesis according to the authors is still very controversial among Anthropologists. Although more research is still needed to scrutinize this hypothesis, an alpha-object fits nicely into a very good narrative.

“Alpha-object amulets in the Philippine ethnographic context are usually passed on to others when the owner dies”, according to the authors.

Only when there are no living hands worthy of inheriting it that the alpha-object is buried with the dead. The Calatagan pot then is a rare alpha-object of a primus daitan.

According to the farmer who found the pot, it is at shoulder level and at the right side of a skeleton which is facing east.  If this is true, then the skeleton could have been a Visayan bailana (a prime priestess) who died far from her home and which has an alpha-object that wasn’t passed to a worthy hand.  This is how a daitan or bailana  in the Visayas would traditionally be buried if she is away from home.

The authors said that although they have employed acceptable scientific standards in their reading, it should be emphasized that “the plausible interpretation of the Calatagan pot does not itself solve the problem of its authenticity”.

However if indeed the current reading is found to be correct, this could be the first written Philippine inscription known today, and it is a magical incantation and it is Visaya! (The magical incantation is so Filipino! (my comment))

This could open up further research directions on Philippine pre-Hispanic history – on the Philippine writing systems and how they are related to a broader Southeast Asian writing, and on Philippine rituals and social practices.


Recently, the Archeological Studies Program of the University of the Philippines Diliman unearth a pot in Manila that seems to have ancient writing on its mouth similar to the Calatagan pot.  They also found a pot shard in Palawan with an ancient script.   It may indicate that ancient people in the Philippines actually write in their pots. The scripts however are again currently unreadable.


I would like to thank Dr. Ramon G. Guillermo for wonderful feedbacks and inputs. Maraming salamat po!

[1] Guillermo, R., & Paluga, M. (2011). Barang king banga: A Visayan language reading of the Calatagan pot inscription (CPI) Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 42 (01), 121-159 DOI: 10.1017/S0022463410000561