Image from Paul Morrow

This is not Arabic, Hindu, Hebrew, Thai or even Bahasa script, but our very own Ancient Tagalog Script. Surprise? I’m sure you are, because I was. When I learned that this writing was ours in the time before our ancestors have learned how to write Castilian letters or the Roman Alphabet, it gave me the light bulb effect that this could be an interesting post.  This ancient script is now called “Baybayin” from the root word “Baybay” meaning to spell. But was also then called “Alibata” in some point in the early 20th century by Professor Historian Paul Versoza who have mistakenly originated the script to Arabic on his study.

I definitely learned a lot going through pages to pages on the web about this ancient tagalog script, understanding Philippine History way beyond our school books. As we all know, we were conquered by the Spaniards during the 16th century when Magellan first came to Cebu claiming the island for Spain. From then on, we have studied about the spread of Christianity, Chinese trade, American and British colonization, same as the Japanese occupation during the Word War II and of course The Philippine Independence. It was like going back in High School, but this time curiosity and interest on learning about something made it more exciting. I have to admit, History class back then was really boring and I can’t wait till the bell rang for recess. Doesn’t everyone wish for that? Lol, I thought so too.

Learning the origin of “Baybayin” led me to Paul Morrow‘s site Sarisari etc…, which have provided me all the information I need to satisfy my curiosity.  It was through his research where I have learned that before the Spanish came to colonize us, we were part of the Sri Vijaya Empire of the ancient Hindu culture in 900 AD. Wherein these ancient Tagalog script now called “Baybayin” have originated. It was proven when recently in 1989, a copper sheet with strange writing on it was found by a commoner in the concrete business while dredging sand at the mount of Lumbang River near Laguna de Bay. He offered the sheet to an antique store which he have sold it almost to nothing, and the dealer who tried to sell it, but no one was interested (since it was not known by all), eventually ending up in the Philippine National Museum. It was then when a Dutch expert Antoon Postma in the ancient Philippine script and Mangyan, and Dr. Johann de Casparis whose a Dutch expert in the ancient Indonesian script confirmed that the writings where the same as the ones used in the island of Java in the 900 CE (Common Era). The copper sheet is now called the Laguna Copperplate Inscription.

Although during the time when Magellan conquered the islands of Cebu, one of his shipmates have reported that the Visayans are not literate, it was changed when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi reported that “They [The Visayans) have their letters and characters like those of the Malays from whom they learned them”.  Baybayin continued to spread during the 15th century but have declined during the 16th century despite the Spanish clergy’s attempt to use it for evangelization. Since it was during the Spanish era, Filipinos studied and learn writing Castillian alphabet to help them get ahead in life, working in relatively prestigious jobs as clerks, scribes and secretaries for the Spaniards.  Due to social expediency, the study of the Castillian alphabet then succeeded eventually forgetting the ancient Tagalog script. Until today, limited resources were found to further learn and understand Bayabayin. It was because, Filipinos then used materials such as Bamboo stalk, wood and leaves to encrypt their writings which of course have decayed over time easily. It was only during the Spanish Era, when Filipinos started writing in paper, but was lost when a fanatical Spanish priest have burned massive of native documents.  Few resources have survived in locations where Spanish Empire was out of reach.

Doctrina Christiana, en lengua española y tagala, was the first book ever printed in the Philippines which teaches Christianity. It was printed on three parts, Spanish in Castilian alphabet, Tagalog in Castilian alphabet and Tagalog in Baybayin.  Written and published by religious authorities. This book was used to further spread Christianity in the Philippines.

Image from Christian Cabuay

It is commonly believed that each province in the Philippines have their own ancient writing. Or so maybe have their own language, similar to how we are today, wherein we have several native local languages on different Regions. There were more variation of handwriting from one individual to the next. Below is an example of Baybayin forms and the original source of each, sorted chronologically but are not distinct alphabets, they are only variations of different styles of handwriting.

In some parts of the Philippines (as mentioned earlier, Baybayin was not totally lost, in Regions out of reach from the Spanish Colonization) they were able to maintain and kept their knowledge of the ancient script but have developed in some distinct style.

Nowadays with technology, the introduction of the web and posting of available historical information made available to everyone have increased the interest of an individual on learning ancient roots, heritage and culture. It has also helped historians gather information from fellow historians that is beyond their reach for collaboration and exploration of their discoveries.  With these happening, many Filipinos are now using Baybayin to show their pride in their heritage. Baybayin were used as tattoos, logos, shirt designs, multimedia arts and more.

Is Baybayin making a come back? Will we see these ancient script taught in school in the future as our National Tagalog writing?

*all images courtesy of Paul Morrow’s site and Christian Cabauay

*all information gathered from Sarisari etc…. and Baybayin.com and respective links provided on text by the owners of the site

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