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Calatagan Pot Translations

by Hector Santos
© 1996 by Hector Santos
All rights reserved.

In this article, I will discuss a couple of attempts to decipher the writing on the Calatagan pot. Juan Francisco could not provide a transliteration in his 1973 Philippine Palaeography. Guillermo Tolentino provided a translation for the Manila Times which was never published. Much later, Jean-Paul Potet in his doctoral dissertation, "Morphologie du Philippin," provided a transliteration of the Calatagan writing.

I use the term "transliteration" here to mean the identification of the symbols used in the writing by using the more familiar symbols of another script, the target script. In a system where a final consonant can be implied but not explicitly shown, the term is vague as to whether a transliteration has to show the missing final consonant or if that missing consonant should only be included in the transcription. Of course, this is based on the assumption that the Calatagan writing has the same characteristics as baybayin that only shows v and cv syllables, dropping the second c in a cvc syllable.

If you examine the diagram below, you will notice that I have numbered the phrases or divisions 1 to 6, counting from left to right. Each symbol within the phrase is also numbered so that a specific symbol like the third symbol in group 4 is identified as 4-3.

Symbol Chart

Potet's transliteration (1983)

I will show Potet's transliteration in tabular form. Potet actually numbered his symbols and groups right to left. It does not necessarily mean that he believes the writing system went from right to left but only that the actual inscription on the clay was obviously written from right to left. The order of the symbols in the chart, therefore, shows Potet's transliteration in reverse order from the way originally presented in his dissertation.


3-xnginumanigaNote 1ta
6-xdakalabinaaNote 2

Note 1. Potet apparently used a version of the Calatagan pot sketch that only showed 6 symbols for group 3. See "Errors in Early Calatagan Pot Material."

Note 2. Potet considers this symbol to be an "end of text" marker. (Dans la Doctrina Christiana cette floriture est ajoutÚe en fin de titre ou en fin de texte et non pas au dÚbut.) This shows that he believes the writing goes from left to right.

Many of the symbols have "look-alikes" in baybayin, albeit in unusual orientations sometimes. The symbol shown in 3-5, 4-4, and 5-2 is an exception. It doesn't look similar to any baybayin symbol. Potet assigned a value of ga to it. Therefore, he had to give the symbol shown in 4-1 and 6-6, which looks very much like a ga, the value of a. Of course, he could have reversed the assigned values but he doesn't give a reason for this choice.

Potet did not provide a translation of the writing.

Tolentino's Transliteration and Translation (196x)

Next, we will look at the transliteration and translation by Guillermo Tolentino in the early 1960's (best date I can give).



Guillermo Tolentino was a famous Filipino sculptor I knew best from his work "Oblation," the statue of a male figure with both arms raised in supplication to the skies. It graced the front of the Administration Building of the school I attended, the University of the Philippines at Diliman.

I was torn between publishing his translation which does not do his memory justice and holding it back at the risk of being a censor. I finally decided to show his translation because if it never appeared in print, the thought would linger in many people's minds that a translation of the Calatagan pot had already been made but was being kept secret.

NI-NO MAN NI I-MA NGA					Group 3
GA KA-KA-I-LA-NGA-NIN					Group 4
BA I-YAN NGA KI-NA-NO					Group 5
PA- * -KI-NA-BANG					Group 1


Ang Tunay na Diwa ng Alay				Title added
Labag man nga lang (sa) aki't (kalooban)		Group 2
Kanino man, kay ina'y magalay,				Group 3
gaano man ang kanyang kakailanganin, (sa kabila)	Group 4
Aba! kanino man nga iyan galing,			Group 5
labis ang ganyang ating					Group 6
pakikinabangin (sa wakas) (na pagpapala ni Bathala).	Group 1

The pot was supposed to be an offering by a son to his beloved mother.

As early as 1964, Postma already commented on the translation in a letter to a colleague that "the Calatagan inscription should be compared with an alphabet as a whole, NOT with separate letters in different alphabets and dialects..." Indeed, Tolentino uses different sources for assigning values to his symbols, some of them of dubious validity.

My criticism is much more severe. Tolentino assigns the same value na to three totally different symbols (1-4, 3-1, 5-7; 2-4, 3-2, 3-4, 5-6; and 4-7), nga to three different symbols (2-6, 3-7, 5-4, 6-1; 4-6; and 6-5), different values to the same symbol (na to 2-4, 3-2, 3-4, 5-6 and nga to 6-5), and so on. He ignores a diacritic when convenient (2-4), drops a symbol and syllable for no good reason (1-2), and adds syllables for his own purposes (passim), and starts the translation arbitrarily (at 2-1).

He also dates the writing as 1 B.C. There is absolutely no evidence to warrant such a claim. Note that he even provides a title for the text of the Calatagan inscription. As I noted previously, he thinks the start of the text is at 2-1.

In spite of the liberties he took with the material, his translation has such a tortured syntax that it begs to be kept a secret. I can only conclude that if he spoke with the spirits, he must have gotten in touch with a prankster. His translation is pitiful. Perhaps, you now understand why I hated to make it public.

Three decades after the Calatagan pot turned up it is still as mysterious as ever.

Additional Reading

  1. Francisco, Juan R. "Philippine palaeography," in Philippine Journal of Linguistics special monograph 3 (Quezon City, 1973).
  2. Potet, Jean-Paul G. "Morphologie du Philippin." Doctoral dissertation, ╔cole des Hautes ╔tudes en Sciences Sociales. Paris, 1983.
  3. Santos, Hector. "Artifacts with writing revisited" in Sulat sa Tans˘, 2:5 (June 1995), 1.
  4. -----. "Other pre-Hispanic writing artifacts" in Sulat sa Tans˘, 2:2 (February 1995), 1.
  5. -----. "The Calatagan pot" in Sulat sa Tans˘, 2:2 (February 1995), 4-5.
  6. -----. "The writing on the Calatagan jar" in Sulat sa Tans˘, 2:5 (June 1995), 3-5.

Other Mysterious Philippine Scripts

To cite:
Santos, Hector. "Calatagan Pot Translations" in A Philippine Leaf at http://www.bibingka.com/dahon/mystery/pot3.htm. US, October 28, 1996.
Sushi Dog
Please send me your comments. I would love to hear from you.
Hector Santos <hectorsan@bibingka.com> Los Angeles
Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 1999