rooting: learning the ancient script baybayin
Baybayin is the ancient script of Filipinos prior to Spanish colonization. Baybay literally means “to spell” but it also means to search, follow, or to walk through the shoreline. Its origins are debatable but theories vary from the Brahmic scripts of India to Chinese and some South East Asian calligraphy. It is used phonetically to characterize words.
I have come across the Baybayin before but did not get the chance to fully immerse in its meaning and value. Now i want to embed it in my life as a Filipina, as an artist, and even as a seeker on a spiritual path – because for me, these are never separate from each other. I want to start my sacred arts journey where my umbilical cord is connected.
Growing up with western education, culture, and upbringing has disconnected me from my rich cultural history and identity. Even with a degree in Social Sciences and a pending thesis for a minor degree in Cultural Heritage from a local university, I still feel so alienated with the depth of indigenous wisdom our culture bearers continue to pass on.
I was born in the island of Cebu, an island in the heart of the country in the Visayas region where the word Babaylan (shamans and healers who were mostly female) came from. My ancestors were among the first to fight against the Spaniards through the leadership of Lapu Lapu who killed the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the battle of Mactan. My personal ancestry can be traced back to Chinese, Spanish, and Malay ancestors who probably have a mix of Indian and other south east asian races. What a melting pot! All Filipinos have this unique multi-cultural identity but reflecting on this deeply I realized all of us in the world have mixed races. Our races have evolved and intermixed beautifully through time.
A journey starts somewhere. Of course I have been walking this earth for God knows how long but this particular special inner and outer journey through my artistic path now (as a 28 year old Filipina given a Christian name Sarah, born in this lifetime and age of the earth 2010) starts with my understanding of babaylan wisdom and using the baybayin script.
The name of God – Bathala when written in Baybayin reveals the unity of man and woman – Ba (Babae/ woman) – Ha (Hangin/ wind or air) – La (Lalake/ man).
Learning about this deepened my appreciation of my ancestors’ creation story of how man (malakas/ strong) and woman (maganda/ beautiful) came from the same bamboo that was cracked open by a mythical bird that brought the heavens and the seas together to form the earth.
That day of learning unlocked something really deep within me because on my way home after yoga class, I sang a spirit song out loud while walking through the park with the trees and the moon and I felt a strong presence of something or someone else singing with me or through me and it sure sounded like a shamanic rythm. Until now I do not remember the melody. I am just grateful to have reconnected again to the the deeper layers of who I am now for it helps in understanding the journey back, forward, higher, outside, and within.
My sacred arts journey has now officially started. Bathalanawa!
Baybayin script chart