Monday, January 03, 2005

The Ruler's Rod

The word "ruler" comes ultimately from Latin regula "a straight piece of wood," one of the rex-derived words.

Bamboo was used as an early measuring stick in Asia. The cane of this plant is divided into segments of relatively equal length similar to a ruler. If the measuring stick of the king originally was a carpenter's and/or navigator's tool, it eventually took on other meanings associated with royalty.

The rod became a symbol of justice as measured out equally by the king as judge. It could also symbolize the armies of the ruler as a weapon, or an instrument of punishment. The bamboo stick is still a popular weapon in some parts of Southeast Asia.

As an emblem of the ruler, it could symbolize the entire nation. A similar example would be the use of the phrase "the crown of France" at one time for the nation of France.

In the latter sense, it is interesting that the word bansa "nation" in western Malayo-Polynesian languages is linked with the word for "bamboo."

I have argued with Waruno Mahdi, Ross Clark and others on the Austronesian list who think bansa and related words were borrowed from Sanskrit. Here's how I recapped my own views on the subject in that forum:

* Indo-Aryans coming from Central Asia would not have known of
bamboo. Thus they either had to borrow a word or make one up. Monier-Williams who usually was passionate about finding IE sources for Sanskrit words could not find one for _vaMza_.

* A root from Austronesian is readily available in the form of b-(n)(t/s)-(ng) which could account for PPH *b-t-ng "bamboo" and PPH *b-ns- "bamboo flute." Similar types of transformations can be seen as in Tagalog lansa and lantong.

* The argument for a west to east borrowing would have been stronger if bansa/bangsa had additional meanings like bamboo or cane, which are in fact the primary meanings of _vaMza_ in Sanskrit. However, they lack the broad range of meanings found.

* The Austronesian words have been reconstructed by Dempwolff and Lopez. Also by Zorc and Charles in PPH which would be too early for a supposed late first millennium borrowing.

* Bansi/Bangsi is less likely for "flute" than bansa/bangsa or at least one should see both forms as in Sanskrit. Also, the specification "bamboo flute" indicates the term is more ancient.

* The evidence indicates that Sanskrit /v/ became /w/ in both Javanese and Malay. A good indication of this is the names of the gods which would have been among the first words borrowed from Sanskrit in both Javanese and Malay. The words showing a /v/ to /b/ change often display characteristics of NIA, where Sanskrit /v/ had already changed to NIA /b/.

* It can be easily demonstrated that the Philippine words have a change from PPH *ng (*N) and not from Malay /ng/.

A reed scepter was used by Mot, the god of the Canaanite underworld. There are those comparative mythologists who think this is related to the New Testament story of Christ receiving a reed, often thought of as bamboo, scepter.

In my next post, I will show how many motifs we have discussed appear in the story of Christ.

Paul Kekai Manansala