Saturday, August 11, 2007

Grace Odal-Devora on Mutya

Prof. Grace Odal-Devora of the University of the Philippines has kindly made me aware that her paper on mutya meaning "pearl, precious stone, charmstone, etc.," is available on the internet.

Grace, btw, is also organizing the Alamat: 1st International Conference on Myths and Symbols for next year in celebration of the centennial of the University of the Philippines. The theme will be on global flooding myths and the linkage with the current problem of global warming and the associated rising sea levels. Grace told me that Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer has agreed to be the main speaker. She's also trying to invite Al Gore to speak on global warming. Here's the site's webpage:

1st International Conference on Myths and Symbols

Her paper, "Some problems in determining the origin of the Philippine word "mutya" or "mutia," was presented at the Tenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. She analyzes Henry Costenobe's reconstruction in Proto-Philippine *muti'a "pearl, gem."

The other usual explanations are that mutia rises is a borrowing from Dravidian muttu "pearl," or from Sanskrit mukta "pearl," in which one of these two is also explained as a borrowing from the other.

I have to agree with Paul Thieme that it is unlikely that Dravidan borrowed from Sanskrit indirectly through the Prakrit form mutta , otherwise we would expect to see Prakrit examples of mukka also.

It also seems rather unlikely, whether you consider Dravidians as the people of the Indus Valley Civilization or as long-time inhabitants of South India, to expect that the supposedly land-locked Prakrit-speaking folk would give them their word for "pearl." The word mukta meaning "pearl" only occurs rather late in Sanskrit literature and it probably is a Sanskritization of Prakrit mutta, with the latter borrowed from Dravidian. There are many Prakrit words that have undergone these types of Sanskritizing sound changes, that are more artificial than natural, especially in the hybrid Sanskrit of Buddhism.

Also, mukta would be a poor explanation for other Dravidian and Southeast Asian forms mentioned by Odal. Some of the Dravidian examples clearly appear to be non-geminate doublets from Southeast Asia including mutya "pearl," Kannada; mut "pearl," Toda; and muti "egg, ovum," Toda.

Proto-Philippine *muti'a would also give a quite good explanation for many of the Southeast Asian forms like mutika/mutica, mutiha and mutiya. We can also add here that David Zorc further reconstructs Proto-Philippine *muti'a* "treasure."

This would only leave a required explanation for the geminate "tt" in the Dravidian forms. I'm not aware of any Proto-Dravidian reconstructions for muttu and related forms in Dravidian. Possibly the geminate forms represent a process not unlike the Sanskritization of "mutta."

My study of charmstones in Kapampangan culture has turned up a number of words mentioned by Bergano.

Buga among the Igorots means "charmstone," but Bergano only lists it as meaning "white stone." Among some lowlanders, buga referred to refractory stone used by indigenous blacksmiths to insulate their furnaces.

Tauas (tawas) is potassium alum, a crystal used extensively in many Philippine systems of healing, divination, sorcery, exorcism, etc. Batubalani meant "magnetic stone," while linao referred to crystalline stones in general. Uri was the "touchstone" used to test for gold and batung usa was the term for "bezoar stone." False stones were called sula.

However, most of the information we have on the use of mutya and anting-anting, a term that could also refer to talismanic stones, comes from modern lore and indigenous sources.

Studies of indigenous Kalinga pottery makers show that while they have a few words to describe different types of clay, they mostly categorized pottery clay by the location of the quarry or mine. The clay from each location had its own particular qualities that were known to the potters. Possibly the same type of classification system was used for collectors of talismanic or similar stone. However, the local people were quite secretive about these beliefs. Sinibaldo Mas writes in 1842:

The superstitions of these people can be divided into three classes...Such are the Tigbalan, Osuang, Patianac, Sava, Naanayo, Tavac, Nono, Mancuculan, Aiasip, the rock Mutya, etc. The Antinganting is any object which promises wealth or happiness, as we would speak of the girdle of Venus, or the ring of Giges. Many Spaniards, especially the curas, imagine that these beliefs are not very deeply rooted, or that they have declined, and that most of the Filipinos are free from them. This is because in the presence of such the Filipinos do not dare tell the truth, not even in the confessional, because of their fear of the reprimand that surely awaits them. I have talked to many about these things, some of whom at the beginning began to laugh and to joke about the poor fools who put faith in such nonsense. But when they saw that I was treating the matter seriously, and with the spirit of inquiry as a real thing, they changed their tone, and made no difficulty in assuring me of the existence of the fabulous beings described above.

In the Philippines, every royal, president, hero, movie star, etc. tends to be associated with anting-anting or mutya if they really want to capture the public imagination. Many a successful movie script has been based on the powers of the amulets and talisman known as anting-anting and mutya.

The process of acquiring a powerful mutya is a spiritual one, a quest that requires transformation of the seeker.

Enjoy Grace's article on the origins of the word "mutya." Maybe latter, I'll be able to link up some of her other writings on the same subject:


precious horse with cintamani on back
The cintamani "thought gems" are usually described as pearls (mukta) that fulfill all wishes in Buddhist and Hindu lore. Six cintamani are shown on the back of the cloud-traveling "Precious Horse" of the Cakravartin King in the image above. They also appear on the back of the Lung Ta "Wind Horse" of Tibet, animal also associated with the sky. According to Gos lo-tsa-ba, in the reign of the 4th century Bon emperor Lha-tho-tho-ri-gnanbtsan, the cintamani fell from the sky unto the roof of the king. (Photo:

Paul Kekai Manansala


Baladheepak AC said...

I would like to know what are the Six-Mutyas.
Would you be kind enough to let me know.

Baladheepak AC