Let’s Learn Baybayin

October 25, 2018

It was a pity that I was not able to complete the half-day Baybayin Writing Workshop sponsored by the Provincial Tourism Office over three days from October 19-21.  This lady expected too much.  After all, our esteemed instructor Sanghabi Director Leo Emmanuel Castro has 15 years of Baybayin studies behind him.  Yet, our pre-hispanic ancestors have been training their children starting from 3 years old to write in baybayin.  The Mangyan children, for example, are given a small knife called the “siyaw” as a carving tool for the curvy characters.  Mr. Castro uses a different tool because the siyaw is a difficult tool to utilize.  Dexterous hands such as those of the Mangyan can manipulate the knife better.

Mr. Castro patiently guides the participants in writing the characters

My friend IC Dingcong is an artist and calligrapher. Her work reflects her experienced dexterity. That’s mine on lower left. (Except for this photo, the rest are by the Provincial Tourism Office of Negros Occidental.)

Certain tribes still use the baybayin i.e. in Mindoro where it is called the SuratMangyan; in Palawan, the SuratTagbanua.  (Mindoro has the Hanunoo and the Buhid.) This is a relief to know that the writing system had survived the centuries especially the Spanish era when the colonizers eradicated baybayin and replaced it with the alphabet as we know it.  “Bye, bye!” But not so fast, amigo.

That feeling of accomplishment!

“Baybay” i.e. “spelling”, or “ispeling” as our lecturer preferred to use is the root word for “baybayin”.  A word of caution for the confused: Baybayin is NOT a synonym for “alibata”.  Spanish-period chroniclers (including Pigafetta and Morga) record the use of baybayin when they came ashore.  What was remarkable to them was the fact that  literacy in the country was available to both genders.  While in Europe the males have more opportunities to pursue an education, the females there were not expected to know how to read and write.  We did not have paper then so our ancestors wrote on tree bark, leaves, stone, bamboo, and metal.  The 9th century Laguna Copperplate found in Lumban is a valuable example of the latter method.  Also excavated were the Calatagan Pot (14th to 15th century) and the Monreal Stones from Masbate, relics of that ancient era.

These artists discover a new medium

Did you know that only 5% of cultures develop a writing system?  That makes our ancient civilization an advanced one notwithstanding our nipa huts and bahag that we so often laugh at because they marked us “primitive”. A recent bill was approved by the Philippine House Committee on Basic Education and Culture.  This bill is House Bill 1022 a.k.a. the “National Writing System Act” meant to institutionalize the promotion and preservation of the Filipinos’ pre-hispanic writing system.

We made it!

At the October 21 workshop, we participants learned the rudiments of baybayin.  Three vowels and fourteen consonants basically make up baybayin.  Certain symbols may be added to change the vowels.  The characters are fluid and just beautiful script made even more beautiful when graceful tendrils are added by the writer.

Let’s discover more about our culture.  It is truly an exciting one!