Poetry in Three Languages: English, Filipino, and Hanunuo Mangyan
Quintin Pastrana was working on a community library in Mindoro when he fell in love with the ambahan, the traditional form of poetry of the Hanunuo Mangyan, an indigenous group.
Each line of an ambahan is made up of only seven syllables, each poem revealing shared stories about everyday objects, nature, and the group’s collective memories.
Pastrana has adopted the metric structure of the ambahan in his own poetry, and has gone further, binding his sensuous words in seven-line stanzas. He wrote the first drafts of the poems while taking his Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford.
“The ambahan is a truly Filipino form, and its heptasyllabic form gives the best of both worlds: an artful structure to crystallize language, yet versatile enough to allow for a more conservational narrative,” says Pastrana, the founder of the Library Renewal Partnership, which has built over 1,000 libraries across the country. “Our Mangyan brothers and sisters had the prescience to craft a verse form where each line spans the runway of the human breath.”
In his book, Ambahan, published by Far Eastern University, Pastrana’s poems were originally written in English, translated into Filipino by author and poet Danton Remoto, and then transcribed in the script of the Hanunuo Mangyan by the Pinagkausahan sa Daga Ginurang, the recognized council of Hanunuo Mangyan elders. Hence, the poems are presented in trilingual form.
The themes are more contemporary than traditional, many centering on love and heartbreak, but still paying homage to the natural: the sea, the sky, the trail-winds, the first star.
Below, some excerpts from the original English:
Estuary light and dark,
communion and confusion,
poetry and prophecy—
grant these unkept dreams passage.
Beguile me as a lantern
dances with the untamed winds
that languished in the canyon
Until yours eyes uncoiled the
fragrance in these pistils that
had slept in the wake of all
that I was becoming, like
unsheathed earth, my two bits’ worth
That your way is the doorway
to the chamber of the sun
Fireflies forge constellations
as the bangka’s prow grazes
the murky mangrove branches
and the boatman’s oarblade stirs
the myriad plankton glowing
through brackish grosgrain water
in the narrowing canyon
Our vessels, tips of spears, pierce
the moonless velvet sieve, with
questions bereft of answers,
rippling through the reflections
of tonight’s scattered jewels
and we find our senses blurred,
gently spinning out of time
If I dwell on this trifle
I begin to remember
how an ordinary day
can write chapters of a book
And here I am, stuck in a
puddle that strayed from this flood
that seeks to rejoin the sea