The written language is most important in writing.Without it, we’d all be like cavemen drawing stories, probably even opinions, on walls, tree trunks, leaves…I imagine there would be much more confusion in this already-confused world.
Of course, there would be the spoken language, probably mostly grunts coupled with hand gestures. We’d probably be fighting over and over due to sound and gesture misinterpretations. I mean, cave paintings are now art, but isn’t art subject to various interpretations? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in a manner of speaking.
So, without the written language, we’d be so far from the civilized world of today…Well, almost civilized. (Some people do seem to even openly and unabashedly show or express their Neanderthal tendencies.)
A Sense of History and Identity
An uncivilized society with no history, that’s exactly how the country’s Spanish conquerors made the natives, our land’s indigenous people and my ancestors, believe they had. After all, we all used to be made up of tribes that practiced pagan beliefs. For around 400 years, they called us ‘indios’, their colonial and discriminatory racial term for us. The conquistadors made us believe our forefathers were illiterate prior to their arrival. The better to reign over us, right?
“The colonial masters required the native Filipinos to swear allegiance to the Spanish monarch, where before they only had village chieftains called ‘datus;’ to worship a new God, where before they worshipped a whole pantheon of supernatural deities and divinities; to speak a new language, where before they had (and still have) a Babel of tongues; and to alter their work habits, where before they worked within the framework of a subsistence economy.” (Encyclopedia of Southeast Asia: Philippines)
Illiterate with no social identity, though? That was the biggest lie Spain gave us. Before they came barging in, we already had our own ancient writing system, the baybayin, also and more popularly known as alibata.
What is baybayin?
“Baybayin is a pre-Spanish Philippine writing system. It is a member of the Brahmic family and is recorded as being in use in the 16th century. It continued to be used during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines up until the late 19th Century.” (Mandirigma.org)
Pre-Spanish era, we were not yet Filipinos. I say this for the simple reason that Filipinas–the Philippines–was named after Spain’s ruler Haring (King) Felipe once they conquered us. The whole truth was, we were an already-learned people with our own history, as proven by our writing.
“History is impossible without the written word as one would lack context in which to interpret physical evidence from the ancient past. Writing records the lives of a people and so is the first necessary step in the written history of a culture or civilization.” (Ancient.eu, on Writing)
The Baybayin Advocacy
Back in 2008, when I used to simply call it ‘alibata’, I wrote about it in my old and now defunct first official blog. I said (with some edits here),
“Alibata is slowly being re-introduced to Filipinos. A decade or so ago, some began sporting alibata characters, the Philippines’ ancient alphabet, especially as tattoos. Most popular of these is the ‘pa’ character to represent the letter P, to symbolize being ‘Pinoy’, slang word for ‘Filipino’ or ‘Pilipino’. Once in a while, I encounter people wearing shirts bearing some of the characters. In the ’90s, GMA (Channel) 7 came up with the action show titled Pintados. In our ancient times, ‘pintados’ were the tribesmen-warriors called so because they had their bodies painted all over. No, tattooed all over. Anyway, this show took a lot of liberty using alibata characters, but without educating the audience on what they meant…
I think I’ll call myself an Alibata advocate. I’ve been trying to practice it this year and I plan to use it in other things…(I do follow what I’ll call ‘Neo-Alibata‘, though. Old and ‘new’ must meet somewhere.)
It was used in many parts of the country back then, especially in Visayas and Mindanao, so it’s not necessarily Tagalog, our most widely used dialect originating from Luzon. The Spaniards came and forced people to become Christians and the ancient letters began disappearing. The style I’m using isn’t exactly the original. I’m following some changes especially when I’m not writing in Filipino. There are letters in the English alphabet that we don’t have.”
What I meant by “the style I’m using” was that I was/is following the altered version created by a Spaniard that adds the cross sign to indicate that a character is to be read as a simple consonant–“pa” is simply read as “p”. Meanwhile, our writing system did not have any R-sound so one of the usual things done, which I follow, was/is to use the “da” or the “la” character instead. I am very partial to the second one because I find it prettier, to be honest. The Mandirigma Research Organization‘s site should be able to tell you much more, so I recommend that you refer to it.
Another popular character, the “Ka”, is another fave of mine. It was used in one of the flags of the Philippine Revolution, by the revolutionary group called Katipunan. Now I know what that image on the flag symbolized.
Check out how I did my name (Jennifer Federizo Enriquez) and my alias (Li’l Dove Feather) respectively using a generator I just found.
Nice, eh? When I wrote the post mentioned above, I actually offered to write readers’ names for them if they requested it in the comments. It was a total hit, I tell you. That second image you see on this post is my handwriting in ali–oops–I mean, baybayin!
“The term Baybay literally means ‘to spell’ in Tagalog…Some have attributed it the name Alibata, but this name is incorrect. (The term “Alibata” was coined by Paul Rodriguez Verzosa after the arrangement of letters of the Arabic alphabet alif, ba, ta (alibata), “f” having been eliminated for euphony’s sake.” )…no evidence of the baybayin was ever found in that part of the Philippines and it has absolutely no relationship to the Arabic language. Furthermore, no ancient script native to Southeast Asia followed the Arabic arrangement of letters,…its absence from all historical records indicates that it is a totally modern creation.” (Mandirigma.org)
Like I said, I aim to be a baybayin advocate. In fact, in the story I am working on, the alibata/baybayin is mentioned.
“…It was proof that unlike what the Spaniards claimed, Filipinos were not an uncivilized race before they arrived and conquered. It was only what they made everyone believe.
Maya had scoffed at that in a conversation saying, ‘Ha! I was learning my A-Ba-Ka-Da loooooong before I met any of them. My father taught me that and his father taught him, and so on. If I had my way, I’d put learning alibata in the grade school curricula.’ She would, too, knowing her. In fact, her journal notebook was filled with things always written in alibata, one way to keep most people away, ironically.” (MAYA [CHAPTER 2: DEAD AIR, Scene 4])
The point made regarding including the writing system in the school curricula is definitely my opinion. And time may come that I shall write a whole story in our beloved baybayin. I can’t wait for other Filipinos to do the same (although there are those who have been incorporating it in their comic books). After all, according to the Mandirigma site, “Baybayin was noted by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be known by most, and was generally used for personal writings, poetry, etc.”
Our literary world has suffered for centuries and it’s time to bring back pride for what we can do and continue our history!…But for now, you can bet that the writing system will figure more in my story’s chapters to come. We always start somewhere.
Meanwhile, here are samples I personally made:
I hope you enjoyed that one and learned a thing or two! Come back on Monday for the next A to Z post! Maybe I’ll have something nice again for you again 😉
By the way, all rights reserved to me, J.Gi Federizo, except for images and quotes that are linked to the right sources. I had original sources in 2008 as well, but the links are gone, and Mandirigma.org shares enough and proper information already, so my thanks to the whole research organization.
Also, DISCLAIMER: This post does not aim to spread hate against Spain or any other country. We are not accountable for whatever bad deeds our forebears did during their time.
This piece serves as my Letter A post for the A to Z Challenge 2017.