Laguna Copperplate Inscription

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The Laguna Copperplate Inscription is the oldest written document ever found in the Philippines, and one of very few available artifacts of precolonial times. According to the inscription on the plate, it was written during the Saka era 822 (which translates to April 21, 900 CE). Portions of the inscription are in Malay, Javanese, and Tagalog, as well as Sanskrit, which is not part of the Southeast Asian linguistic group.

The copperplate is now in the posession of the National Museum of the Philippines.

Discovery

The copperplate was uncovered at the Lumbag River delta near Laguna de Bay. A man digging up sand for construction saw the inscriptions on the metal and thought the plate would have some archaeological value, so he sold it to an antique dealer.

Alfredo E. Evangelista, who was in charge of the Anthropology department of the National Museum of the Philippines, bought the copperplate from the dealer in 1989. A year later, the artifact caught the attention of Dutch anthropologist Antoon Postma who was an authority on Philippine scripts, particularly the Hanuno'o language of the indigenous people of Mindoro. Postma found that the markings on the plate did not resemble the Filipino script called Baybayin or Alibata at all. Instead, they were Kavi, an archaic script from Java. Postma first thought that the artifact was really from Java. With the help of another Dutch scientist, J.G. De Casparis, he discovered certain peculiarities about the artifact that would indicate otherwise.

First, the name of King Balitung did not appear in the text. It was a practice of the Javanese at that time to include their king's name in all documents. And although the document was written in the Kavi script, the text drew words from different languages such as Sanskrit, Old Javanese, Old Malay, and Old Tagalog. Finally, it appears that the inscriptions were made by hammering the characters onto the copper plate, while the Javanese method at the time was was to heat the metal first, and then make the impressions.


Inscription

The copperplate was a document from a chief of Tundun saying that he has pardoned a person named Namwaran of a debt of 1 kati and 8 suwarna (926.4 grams) of gold.

The text has been translated as follows:


“Long Live! Year of Siyaka 822, month of Waisaka, according to astronomy. The fourth day of the waning moon, Monday. On this occasion, Lady Angkatan, and her brother whose name is Buka, the children of the Honourable Namwaran, were awarded a document of complete pardon from the Commander in Chief of Tundun, represented by the Lord Minister of Pailah, Jayadewa. By this order, through the scribe, the Honourable Namwaran has been forgiven of all and is released from his debts and arrears of 1 katî and 8 suwarna before the Honourable Lord Minister of Puliran, Ka Sumuran by the authority of the Lord Minister of Pailah. Because of his faithful service as a subject of the Chief, the Honourable and widely renowned Lord Minister of Binwangan recognized all the living relatives of Namwaran who were claimed by the Chief of Dewata, represented by the Chief of Medang. Yes, therefore the living descendants of the Honourable Namwaran are forgiven, indeed, of any and all debts of the Honourable Namwaran to the Chief of Dewata. This, in any case, shall declare to whomever henceforth that on some future day should there be a man who claims that no release from the debt of the Honourable...”


The places mentioned in the document still exist today, with similar names: Tundun, Paila, Puliran, Binwangan, Dewata, and Medang. Tundun is now Tondo district in Manila. Paila, Puliran, and Binwangan are in Bulacan province. Dewata, or Diwata, is near Butuan in Agusan del Norte, Mindanao. And Medang could be what is now Medan, a place in Sumatra.


Sources

“Laguna Copperplate Inscription.” Asia Finest. http://www.asiafinest.com/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t17820.html (June 22, 2010).

“Sulat sa Tanso: Kavi, a borrowed Philippine scrip.” A Philippine Leaf. http://www.bibingka.com/dahon/lci/kavi.htm (June 22, 2010).

“Laguna Copperplate Inscription.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laguna_Copperplate_Inscription (June 22, 2010).

“The Laguna Copperplate Inscription.” The Beginning of Philippine History: Lunes, Abril 21, 900 A.D. http://www.mts.net/~pmorrow/lcieng.htm (June 22, 2010).

“Sulat sa Tanso: The Laguna Copperplate Inscription.” A Philippine Leaf. http://www.bibingka.com/dahon/lci/lci.htm (June 22, 2010).