Tacit Perceptions of Symbolism

Posted on Jul 18, 2009 in A Holistic Approach, BA, bahala na, divination, LA, talinghaga


Tacit Perceptions of Symbolism - baybayinalive.com

To come to know the baybayin symbols’ deeper meanings, we will need to be aware of our tacit knowing.

…a corporeal or postural schema gives us a practical and implicit notion of the relation between our body and things. In this way we experience presence which, in the pre-verbal period of early childhood is a situation seemingly without distance, one of immediacy. It is this aspect of perception, of presence in a world without mediation, that visual communications draws upon… [it] can set in motion memories that carry us back in time; in this way, time past and time present fuse in the act of perception. (pg 63, Visual Communication: More than Meets the Eye, By Harry Jamieson)

One’s comprehension of universal symbols is attributed to not only what some might call inner knowing or artistic interpretation, but also by tacit perception, a sort of universal knowing or understanding that goes beyond literacy, language and culture. Tess Obusan established in the 90s among Filipino scholars, that such katutubong kaalaman or indigenous knowledge needed to be applied when researching, studying and making conclusions about Filipino culture and Filipino identity.

For example, here is an image of a hot dog and a donut.

In this context, together, they can have a sexual connotation. If one were to animate the hot dog and donut as moving closer and farther apart repeatedly, the connotation is enhanced. The context whereby we can perceive the hot dog and the donut as male and female genitalia, respectively, is an experience of perception at the tacit level or a most instinctual, natural and timeless way of perceiving the world.

Whether it is dealing with nature or image, perception performs the task of unifying impressions into a continous whole; a task performed below the level of consciousness, at the tacit level… the engagement of the senses, nature and image as artefact are intertwined… it is tied closely to the natural order of things. (Visual Communication: More than Meets the Eye, By Harry Jamieson)

In the Philippines, when both the young and old are shown the images of the baybayin BA and LA together the same response is many times illicited as when viewing the hot dog and donut image above.

Symbol for LA, the main syllable in Lalaki or La-ki(tagalog and ilonggo words, respectively, for “Male”). Transcendent meaning is Masculine Principle, or Yang as in Yin-Yang.

Symbol for BA, the main syllable in Babae or Ba-i(tagalog and ilonggo words, respectively, for “Female”)  Transcendent meaning is Feminine Principle, or Yang as in Yin-Yang.

The deeper meanings of the BA and LA baybayin symbols also can be known at the tacit level as illustrated by the following stories by my friends and associates in the Philippines.

Rhodora “Bing” Veloso (author of Saysayin ng Baybayin aka Meanings of Baybayin) does divinations with baybayin cards. When doing readings for people from all walks of life, she has repeatedly witnessed a response to the BA and LA symbols the same as the tacit response to the hot dog and donut imagery above.

Around 2001, Tess Obusan and her colleagues Raymund Cosare and Leo E. Castro were displaying the baybayin symbols of BA-HA-LA (which spells Bahala, a Filipino philosophy or saying, and also spells Bathala, the tagalog word for “Great Divine Being”) to a large number of girl students of Stella Maris, a private Catholic girls school in Metro Manila. When the image came up, some girls began to titter and the response grew until the whole auditorium was roaring with the laughter of these young ladies. When the presenters asked them what they were laughing about, they were not surprised to see that the girls who spoke up were initially embarassed to explain why they were all laughing. The bolder of the girls finally explained that the symbols for BA and LA were too similar to seeing vulgar graffiti representing the female and male genitalia being drawn close together. Tacit knowing, indeed!

Cosare also related to me that, in 2004, Grace Nono, ritualist performer and cultural worker, along with certain members of indigenous groups from Agusan came to Manila and brought them to the museum Bahay Nakpil-Bautista. Grace asked the curator Tess Obusan and colleagues Cosare and Castro to talk with the Agusan visitors about what they knew about Filipino culture. These were indigenous folk who lived and breathed Filipino indigenous traditions with less colonial influences than their urban counterparts. At one point, Tess and her colleagues began to talk about the baybayin. When Obusan’s group shared the picture of the baybayin symbols for BA-HA-LA and explained that their interpretation of BA and LA were the Feminine and Masculine aspects the indigenous listeners responded in agreement. Then one Agusan man pointed to the BA and said, “sa babae” (of female), and pointed to the LA and said, “sa lalake” (of male).

So depending on the eye of the beholder, they may see the female and male connotations of BA and LA and depending on their viewpoint they may see them as sexual organs or Woman and Man or Feminine and Masculine aspects.  The Filipino spirituality movement sees in the symbols also Feminine and Masculine Divine aspects. For posts on the latter read also posts on Bahala Na and Meanings and Diwa (Idea or Spirit) within “Bahala” and “Bathala”.

Such modern day accounts of tacit knowing of the baybayin symbols of BA and LA are examples of living knowledge of the deeper meanings of the baybayin.

And such tacit knowing of baybayin symbols illustrates that we do not need ancient scrolls or colonizers’ chronicles in order to understand what implicit meanings our ancestors could very well have had for symbols that later got incorporated into the baybayin.


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