Fil-Am curator eyes rare $30,000 Ibanag-language Bible

Posted at 06/18/2012 7:54 PM | Updated as of 06/19/2012 6:07 PM

WASHINGTON D.C. - A Filipino-American curator at the Library of Congress has her eyes set on a rare 17th century Bible written in Ibanag, a language spoken by an ethnic minority in Northern Luzon, that has been put up for sale.

An excited Reme Grefalda, curator in the Asian Pacific Islander collection of the Library of Congress, said she is looking for benefactors who can cough up the $30,000 to purchase the Ibanag-language Bible on behalf of the Library of Congress.

“I have to justify why the Library should have this,” she told the Manila Mail.

“It’s an Ibanag Bible written by a friar who studied the Ibanag culture and language,” Grefalda explained.

“Aside from the Bible itself, it has comments there from the Ibanag people talking about the Bible,” she revealed.

The Ibanags (translated as “People of the River”) inhabit parts of Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya in Luzon’s northeast. They speak an indigenous language bearing the same name which, like much of their culture, facing the threat of being supplanted by the more dominant Ilocanos of Northwestern Luzon.

The Ibanag Bible was written by Fray Antonio Lobato de Santo Tomas in Tuguegarao, Cagayan in 1776-80, according to the online posting about the sale of the rare book.

“Only a handful of missionaries worked in the region of the northeastern Philippine provinces of Isabela and Cagayan, most notably in Tuguegarao City, Solana, Cabagan, and Ilagan, where the language is spoken; and not all mastered the tongue.

“Fray Antonio Lobato was one of those who did and it was he who took Fr. José Bugarin's Ibanag-Spanish dictionary, created in the previous century, and edited it to a usable work – though the result was not published until the 19th century, and apparently no other work was published in the language during the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries,” according to the Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscript Company website.

“This could be very significant in the study of how indigenous tribes interpreted the Christian Bible,” Grefalda stressed to the Manila Mail.

She pointed out that the Library of Congress already has several rare Bibles, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the 1st major book produced on a printing press in the world in the 1450s. Only 48 copies reportedly exist today, and one is on permanent display at the Library of Congress.