The Laguna Copperplate Inscription (Filipino: Inskripsyon sa Binatbat na Tanso ng Laguna, Malay: Prasasti keping tembaga Laguna; often shortened into the acronym LCI), a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 AD, is the earliest known written document found in the Philippines.
The plate was found in 1989 by a laborer near the mouth of the Lumbang River in Wawa barangay, Lumban municipality, Laguna province. The inscription, written in a mix of the Old Malay language using the Old Kawi script, was first deciphered by Dutch anthropologist and Hanunó'o script expert Antoon Postma in 1992.
The LCI documents the existence of several early Philippine polities as early as 900 AD, most notably the Pasig River delta polity of Tondo. Scholars believe that it also indicates trade, cultural, and possibly political ties between these polities and at least one contemporaneous Asian civilization—the Medang Kingdom of the island of Java.
The inscription was written in Kawi script—a writing system developed in Java, and using a mixture of languages including Sanskrit, old Javanese, old Malay and old Tagalog. This was a rare trace of Javanese influence, which suggests the extent of interinsular exchanges of that time.
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription was found in 1989 near the mouth of the Lumbang River near Laguna de Bay, by a man who was dredging sand to turn into concrete. Suspecting that the artifact might have some value, the man sold it to an antique dealer who, having found no buyers, eventually sold it to the National Museum of the Philippines, where it was assigned to Alfredo E. Evangelista, head of its anthropology department.
A year later, Antoon Postma noted that the inscription was similar to the ancient Indonesian script of Kawi. Postma translated the script and found the document dated itself to the Saka year 822, an old Hindu calendar date which corresponds to 900 AD. This meant that the document pre-dated the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and is from about the same time as the mention of the Philippines in the official Chinese Song dynasty History of Song for the year 972.
The inscription is on a thin copper plate measuring less than 20 × 30 cm (8 × 12 inches) in size with words directly embossed onto the plate. It differs in manufacture from Javanese scrolls of the period, which had the words inscribed onto a heated, softened scroll of metal.
Inscribed on it is year 822 of the Saka Era, the month of Waisaka, and the fourth day of the waning moon, which corresponds to Monday, April 21, 900 AD in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. The text is Old Malay with numerous loanwords from Sanskrit and a few non-Malay vocabulary elements whose origin may be Old Javanese. Some contend it is between Old Tagalog and Old Javanese. The document states that it releases its bearers, the children of Namwaran, from a debt in gold amounting to 1 kati and 8 suwarnas (865 grams; 27.8 troy ounces).
The text below is from Hector Santos' 1995 transliteration. All of the letters in Santos' text were in smallcaps.
|Original translation by Antoon Postma (1991)||Notes|
|1||swasti shaka warshatita 822 waisakha masa ding jyotisha. chaturthi krishnapaksha so-||Hail! In the Saka-year 822; the month of March-April; according to the astronomer: the fourth day of the dark half of the moon; on|
|2||-mawara sana tatkala dayang angkatan lawan dengannya sanak barngaran si bukah||Monday. At that time, Lady Angkatan together with her relative, Bukah by name,|
|3||anakda dang hwan namwaran di bari waradana wi shuddhapat(t)ra ulih sang pamegat senapati di tundu-||the child of His Honor Namwaran, was given, as a special favor, a document of full acquittal, by the Chief and Commander2 of Tundun|
|4||n barja(di) dang hwan nayaka tuhan pailah jayadewa. di krama dang hwan namwaran dengan dang kaya-||representing the Leader of Pailah, Jayadewa. This means that His Honor Namwran, through the Honorable Scribe4|
|5||stha shuddha nu di parlappas hutangda wale(da)nda kati 1 suwarna 8 di hadapan dang hwan nayaka tuhan pu-||was totally cleared of a salary-related5 debt of 1 kati and 8 suwarna (weight of gold): in the presence of His Honor the Leader of Puliran,|
|6||liran ka sumuran. dang hwan nayaka tuhan pailah barjadi ganashakti. dang hwan nayaka tu-||Kasumuran; His Honor the Leader of Pailah, representing Ganasakti; (and) His Honor the Leader|
|7||han binwangan barjadi bishruta tathapi sadanda sanak kaparawis ulih sang pamegat de-||of Binwangan, representing Bisruta. And, with his whole family, on orders of the Chief of Dewata|
|8||wata [ba]rjadi sang pamegat medang dari bhaktinda di parhulun sang pamegat. ya makanya sadanya anak||representing the Chief of Mdang, because of his loyalty as a subject (slave?) of the Chief, therefore all the descendants|
|9||chuchu dang hwan namwaran shuddha ya kaparawis di hutangda dang hwan namwaran di sang pamegat dewata. ini gerang||of his Honor Namwaran have been cleared of the whole debt that His Honor owed the Chief of Dewata. This (document) is (issued) in case|
|10||syat syapanta ha pashchat ding ari kamudyan ada gerang urang barujara welung lappas hutangda dang hwa ...||there is someone, whosoever, some time in the future, who will state that the debt is not yet acquitted of His Honor...||* Line 10 of the LCI ends mid-sentence.|
Postma, who first translated the LCI, notes that place names and personal names in the LCI need to be carefully studied by scholars because “they furnish vital clues regarding the political & topographic background” of the world around the time of the LCI.
Going into the specifics of the text, he notes that:
“the toponyms or placenames are: Pailah (lines 4 and 6); Tundun (line 3); Puliran (line 6) and Binwangan (line 7). Dewata (line 8) and Mdang (line 8) could be either personal names or toponyms.”
Postma identified three of these toponyms, Binwangan, Pailah and Puliran, as Malayo-Polynesian (most likely Filipino) in origin, and three other toponyms, Tundun, Dewata and Mdang, as Sanskrit in origin.
After carefully considering possible interpretations of the text, including the possibility that Pailah and Puliran were located in the Laguna Lake region, Postma concluded that he was confident that Binwangan, Pailah, and Puliran:
“find their equivalents within the limited area of what is now known as Bulacan Province in the Philippines, [and that] the text of this same LCI can be considered to refer indeed to these places, already existing already under identical names in the tenth century.”
Postma emphasized that his interpretation of the LCI placenames being in Bulacan puts these named settlements on key locations on Central Luzon’s river systems, which he referred to as “waterhighways” which allowed “an effective (and often only) means of transportation and communication between the different settlements” as well as “offering the seafaring traders of China and Southeast Asia of early times an easy access to interior trading centers via these riverine communication-lines.” He also noted that Central Luzon’s rivers were “much deeper and certainly were more navigable than they are today.”
Postma’s assertions have been challenged a number of times, notably by the Pila Historical Society Foundation and local historian Jaime F. Tiongson. But these challenges have not been fully resolved by Philippine historiographers’ process of peer review.
Postma asserted that he was fairly certain that four words in the LCI were place names, or toponyms: "Pailah (lines 4 and 6); Tundun (line 3); Puliran (line 6) and Binwangan (line 7)."
Tundun, whose name Postma believed to be "Sanskrit in origin", was referenced in line 3 of the LCI. It is the most easily recognizable of the toponyms identified by Postma in the LCI, and scholarly consensus(p"134")(p"38") generally agrees with Postma’s original identification of the LCI’s Tundun as Tondo, the polity located on the northern seaside of the Pasig River delta, where the Pasig River empties into Manila Bay.
Postma left an avenue for an alternative interpretation open however, saying that Mdang and Tondo: “because of their lingual consonants (n and d) that are of Sanskrit origin might originally be toponyms existing on the Island of Java.”
Postma identified Pailah, whose name he believed to be Malayo-Polynesian (and probably Filipino) in origin, as a “locality with its own leader.” It was referenced twice, in lines 4 and 6 of the LCI. Locating its possible location in Bulacan, Postma proposed its site to be “the village of Paila, in Barangay of San Lorenzo at the eastern part of the municipality of Norzagaray, with coordinates 14-54.5 & 121-06.9.”
Postma identified Puliran, whose name he believed to be Malayo-Polynesian (and probably Filipino) in origin, as a “locality with its own leader” referenced in line 6 of the LCI. Postma asserted that Puliran was probably located in modern-day Bulacan, on the current site of “Pulilan, along the Angat (pronounced: Anggat) River…north of Manila, (coordinates: 14-54.2 & 120-50.8)”
Postma believed that the place-name of Binwangan, referenced in line 7 of the LCI as a locality with its own leader, was Malayo-Polynesian (and probably Filipino) in origin. Locating its possible location in Bulacan, Postma proposed its site to be “the village of Binwangan, belonging to the municipality of Obando, situated at the mouth of the Bulacan River, with coordinates 14-43.2 & 120-543.”
Based on linguistic analysis, Postma concluded that the words Dewata and Mdang “could be either personal names or toponyms.” He noted that their names seemed to be Sanskrit in origin, but did not go into a deep discussion of where they might have been located, other than to say Mdang was already known as a place name in Indonesia.
Abinales and Amoroso (2005) note that the leaders of Dewata and Mdang (if these words are indeed to be accepted as toponyms) were not present for the transaction but were rather invoked as authorities in certifying the cancellation of the debt in question:
“Jayadewa invokes the authority of the chief of Dewata, who in turn represents the chief of Medang.”
Postma’s paper proposing his translation and interpretation of the LCI mentions that his search of the Indonesian toponym listings developed by Damais and Darmosoetopo, as well as his consultation with the 14th Congress of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association (IPPA) in August 1990, determined that Mdang was the only (possible) toponym in the LCI which matched with known Indonesian place-names.
Abinales and Amoroso (2005), citing Patanñe (1996) note that this seems to refer to "a temple complex in Java, where the kingdom of Mataram was a rival to Srivijaya."
While it is clear in the text of the LCI that Jayadewa of Tondo is invoking the authority of the Chief of Dewata, the precise relationship between Dewata and Mdang is less clear. E.P. Patanñe notes:
"This relationship is unclear but a possible explanation is that the chief of Dewata wanted it to be known that he had a royal connection in Java.”
Postma’s assertions regarding the exact locations of Pailah and Puliran and Binwangan have been challenged by the Pila Historical Society Foundation and local historian Jaime F. Tiongson, who assert that the place names Pailah and Puliran are more likely to refer to places close to where the plate was found - in Lumban, Laguna - given that archeological findings in nearby Pila show the presence of an extensive settlement during precolonial times.
According to Tiongson's interpretation: Pailah refers to Pila; Puliran refers to Puliran, the old name of the territory that occupied the southeastern part of Laguna de Bay at the time; and Binwangan refers to modern day Barangay, Binawangan in Capalonga, Camarines Norte.(p"125")
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription, among other recent finds such as the Golden Tara of Butuan and 14th century pottery and gold jewellery in Cebu, is highly important in revising the ancient Philippine history, which was until then considered by some Western historians to be culturally isolated from the rest of Asia, as no evident pre-Hispanic written records were found at the time. Philippine historian William Henry Scott debunked these theories in 1968 with his Prehispanic Source materials for the Study of Philippine History which was subsequently published in 1984.
The inscription is a document demonstrative of pre-Hispanic literacy and culture, and is considered to be a national treasure. It is currently deposited at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila.
The transliteration of the inscription shows heavy Sanskrit, Old Javanese and Malay linguistic influences. Among the observations made by Antonio Pigafetta in the 16th century Boxer Codex was that Old Malay had currency amongst classical period Filipinos as a lingua franca.
The use of Hindu references in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription could also suggest that the author or authors of the inscription were adherents of Hinduism. The Golden Tara statue, an ancient artifact discovered in Butuan, Agusan del Norte, dates from the same period and strongly suggests the presence of Hindu-Buddhist beliefs prior to the introduction (and subsequent subscription) to Roman Catholicism and Islam amongst Filipinos.