In early August, a Philippine-published book made it to the top of Amazon’s list of “Hot New Releases.” With its intimidating title, “Boxer Codex: A Modern Spanish Transcription and English Translation of 16th-Century Exploration Accounts of East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific”—whew!—even its publisher was surprised the tome entered the number one slot in the “Hot New Releases” list under the category of historical study reference.
Vibal Foundation heir and Executive Director Gaspar Vibal attributes this success to what he describes as the pan-Asian appeal of this late 16th-century Spanish text that not only concerns itself with early modern Philippines but also China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia. “This goes to show,” he adds, “that it is possible after all for a Philippine publisher to be seen worldwide and to ride to the top of the Amazon lists.”
The sumptuously bound and illustrated manuscript contains a collection of eyewitness accounts of various cultures and places in East and Southeast Asia. These accounts—rich with anthropological detail about precolonial customs and beliefs, and lavishly supplied with images and depictions of native peoples in their traditional costumes—were compiled into a book with the purpose of convincing the king of Spain to launch further expeditions in the region.
Asked what might be of most interest to readers about the title, Vibal names two: “Firstly, there are wondrous tales of the initial encounters between the East and the West about five centuries ago. For Filipinos interested in learning more about their ancestors, there is so much ethnographic and anthropological detail made especially relevant due to the Philippine quincentennial commemorations,” the publisher told ANCX.
And second? “There are fantastical tales of untold wealth, courageous heroes, and stirring battles,” says Vibal. “It also contains over 90 detailed watercolors of the early inhabitants and their animal kingdom. The Codex is truly a world literary treasure, especially of the Baroque age.”
The book, named after the last owner of the codex, the British scholar Charles R. Boxer, was transcribed and edited by Isaac Donoso and translated and annotated by National Artist for Literature Carlos Quirino, together with Ma. Luisa Garcia and Mauro Garcia.
In the decades since the manuscript was discovered (1947), a constellation of scholars have expanded its audience’s understanding of this valuable document, which gives us perhaps the clearest depiction of the lives of early Filipinos as well as the culture and politics of early modern Asia.
Aside from being the number one new release in Historical Study Reference, “Boxer Codex” has also reached number 19 in the Southeast Asia History top list as well as number 38 under the History Encyclopedias category.
“The original Codex had been digitized by the Lilly Library of Indiana University. However, the manuscript is written in a script that cannot be easily deciphered today,” says Vibal when asked what were the challenges of putting together this new incarnation of the book. “Our Spanish editor Isaac Donoso took time in transcribing its early modern Spanish text that had been written without standard punctuation and spelling in order to turn it into a literary masterpiece. For its English translation, we fortunately had the Philippine section translated by National Artist for Literature Carlos Quirino and Mauro Garcia, but the other sections on China and Southeast Asia had to be translated from scratch by Maria Luisa Garcia.”
But all the work was worth it, says the Vibal Executive Director. “The result of all these scholars working together is a literary jewel in both English and Spanish supplemented with the the reproductions of the stunning watercolors that you now see today. Personally, the publication of the Boxer Codex has been a very gratifying experience and I am so elated that people from all over the world can now enjoy it easily and at an affordable price, thanks to the distribution network of Amazon, the world’s largest bookstore.”
In addition to presenting the Spanish text and English translation side by side for comparison, the edition contains an insightful and synthesizing introduction by Donoso that situates the codex within global and historical context at the time it was written.
[The Boxer Codex and other Vibal books are available at Amazon https://www.amazon.com, Lazada and Shopee. It is also available for preorder at the Vibal online shop at https://shop.vibalgroup.com.]