HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 57 no. 1 (2011)

The Calatagan Pot: A National Treasure with Bisayan Inscription

Rolando O. Borrinaga

Discipline: History



After 50 years as an enigma, the text inscribed around the shoulder of the famous Calatagan Pot, the country’s oldest cultural artifact with pre-Hispanic writing, has been deciphered. It seems to have been written in the old Bisayan language. This paper presents a review of the inscription puzzle, past and recent attempts at cracking the code, as well as the author’s breakthrough in deciphering the symbols, determining its language and meaning, and inferring the possible use of the pot. It now appears that the Calatagan artifact was a ritual pot particularly used as native incense burner for the pag-ulî (return) rite to retrieve the soul of a moribund person during the pre-Hispanic era. The inscription essentially provides the outline of a three-stage monologue, presumably elaborated by a babaylan (native priestess) in a trance during the pag-ulî ritual.


The pot was probably also used for ceremonies to retrieve victims of bugkut, disappeared persons believed to have been abducted by dwellers of the spirit world. The paper provides a glossary of 26 Bisayan words that could be derived from the Calatagan Pot inscription.