The Baybayin: Musings on a Forgotten History by John Paul ‘Lakan’ Olivares

Posted on Feb 17, 2013 in history, people, resources

The Baybayin: Musings on a Forgotten History by John Paul ‘Lakan’ Olivares on
Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 9:48pm. Originally posted at Facebook notes.
Olivares is researching and preparing his thesis on baybayin.

2012 Mandala ng Awit ng Panday
The Baybayin: Musings on a Forgotten History
In recent times, there has been a growing interest among Filipinos in the use of the Baybayin. The name Baybayin presently used as a general term for all the ancient Philippine syllabic scripts; whereas the word Baybayin traditionally refers to the ancient extinct script of the Tagalog people, with the root word “baybay” or ‘to spell’.
Tagalog script
Present exponents of the Baybayin are asking that this ancient script be reintroduced into the classrooms, and others are exploring the ‘mystic’ qualities of the script in self discovery as well as plant growth. While others have used the baybayin as an expression to reclaim their ancient Philippine heritage, whether they are used in tattoos or artworks and even corporate identities.
In my own explorations of the Tagalog Baybayin, I have come to the conclusion that this script had reached a height of artistic expression in calligraphy, and had long been lost to the ancient people of the Philippines by the time the Ferdinand Magellan landed in Eastern Samar in 1521.
Although many of the ancient scripts thrived at the start of the Spanish colonialization of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565, many Spanish scholars did note that the lowland natives would be writing these scripts on leaves and bamboo. Any trace of the calligraphic writing of these scripts can only be surmised in the cursive style of writing these syllables.  Another hint to the calligraphic past of the baybayin can also be found in the calligraphic signatures of the datus (chieftains) on old manuscripts of the Spanish priests.
Whereas most of the upland communities have lost all traditions of writing, the Buhid and Hanunoo Mangyan people of Mindoro island have their maintained their scripts, yet have developed to a more linear writing compared to the cursive style of their lowland counterparts such as the Tagalog, Ilokano, Visaya, Bikolano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagbanua, and Palaweno people.
If calligraphic writing (with a brush-like stylus on paper or cloth) of the Baybayin is a symbol of a high evolution of the culture of the ancient people of the Philippines, how was it lost and become mere etched writings on leaves and bark? And if writing the Baybayin was such a commonly practiced activity among the natives, how come there is not one artifact preserving actual writing of the 15th to 16th century (and not the documentations of the Spaniards)? And how did the Mangyan scripts devolve into a simple linear writing, while other highland groups such as the Igorot (Ifugao, Ibaloi, Kalinga, Bontoc, etc.) and the Lumad (Manobo, Tinguian, T’Boli, Bagobo, etc.) lose their writing traditions completely?
To be straight, many scholars do not believe that the Baybayin was ever written calligraphically, and maintain that the ancient people wrote their scripts by inscribing it on to leaves and bamboo, or etched as the Laguna Copper Plate. This is due to the lack of any evidence of any calligraphic artifacts, in fact there is no remaining evidence of the ancient scripts, which the exception of the documentation made by the Spanish priests, with the exception of the surviving Hanunoo, Buhid, Tagbanua and Palaweno scripts which are still used by these people.
According to historians, the ancient natives never documented their history, as their writings were concerned on daily business; such as the sample of the Laguna Copper Plate, which was basically a receipt of debt. Other writings were poetry and love letters, as commonly seen in the Ambahan (poetry) of the Hanunoo people.
However, looking back at our history, this is what I surmised had developed from the formation of the great kingdoms to the high cultural evolution signified by the calligraphic expression of the Baybayin, and it later devolution to near extinction by the middle of the Spanish colonialization.
Although it has been recorded that human occupation in the Philippine archipelago can be dated as far as 50,000 BC with the artifacts found in the Callao cave in Cagayan (41,000 BC) and Tabon cave in Palawan (24,000 BC), the races whom we can genetically consider the ancestors of the Filipino people can be alluded to the arrival of the Negrito people (30,000 BC) and the coming of the Austronesian / Malayan-Polynesian people (5000 BC). However, the development of the classic barangay townships could be dated as early as 200 AD.
By 700 AD, the many coastal communities had developed into kingdoms and were trading with many of our Asian neighbors; such as the Siamese, Vietnamese, Sumatran and Javanese people. Trading links reached as far as India and Arabia, with the most noted was the 982 AD account of the Chinese trading with the people of Ma-i (suggested to be in Mindoro island).  Not only were there seafarers coming to our shores, there have been accounts of our ancestors traveling to these different kingdoms, including China.
900BC Angono Petroglyphs
Although the earliest ‘writing’ recorded then are the Angono petroglyphs (3000 BC), it is believed that the ancient communities had already developed writing s early as 300 BC, with the introduction of Brahmic scripts as the ancestor of the Baybayin. These scripts were introduced by the Sumatran and Javanese traders and were quickly assimilated into the various native communities. This becomes evident with the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (982 AD) and the Butuan Ivory Seal (1002 AD), which use the Kawi script.
1100AD Laguna Copper Plate
It is not clear when or where the true Baybayin form evolved, but by the 8th century AD it was used throughout the archipelago. It could be said that most of these scripts developed from one source, as the Luzon, Visayan and Palawan island script have very similar features.
With the exposure of the ancient peoples to the cultures of the Siamese and Chinese, would it be possible for them to assimilate the calligraphic expressions of these people? I assume that the ancient natives adopted these skills, including traded for paper and silk in which they would express the Baybayin in brushwork. And this calligraphic expression was further influenced by the development of many small Chinese settlements across the islands (which were later called Parian) and later exposure to Arabic scripts and calligraphy. And based on some studies, I place this cultural development at around the 13th to the 14th century AD.
This calligraphic application of the Baybayin leads to its development into a very cursive form, as seen in the Luzon and Visayan scripts. The cursive form of the Luzon and Visayan baybayin seems more applicable in a brush stroke or another pigment based implement, rather than using a metal or wooden stylus to inscribe the syllables onto bamboo. The inscribing on bamboo of the scripts is more suited to the linear scripts such as that of the Hanunoo and Buhid.
And in that development of writing throughout the islands, writing expanded from from daily business activities and poems, to recording their histories and beliefs in paper and cloth.
With the flourishing trade with the Asian neighbors, many kingdoms grew rich and powerful, which lead to wars for territory and trade routes, such as the battles between the kingdoms of Tondo and Maynila in the 12th century.
As many of the wars spread through the islands (as well as regular raids on smaller towns for slaves), many of the smaller communities started moving inland and towards the forests and mountains. Although the first rice terraces of the Luzon Cordilleras were formed by 1000 BC, the final wave of  immigration to the mountains to place around the 10th century AD, leading to the development of the Ifugao, Kalinga, Bontoc and other cultures of the Cordilleras. The harsh conditions of the mountain life slowly devolved these people’s cultures to the loss of their use of scripts. Any writings made by their ancestors were left behind in the mass exodus towards the mountains.
In 1380, Islam arrived in Sulu and Mindanao and heralded the rise of the Islamic Sultanates and Rajahnates. These new Islamic royalties lead to at bloody thrust for conversion to Islam throughout the archipelago, as well as continuing the fierce competition to expand trade routes and territories, which lead to a new wave of wars throughout the islands and its neighbors. One of the noted wars is the 13th century rebellion and the subsequent escape of the 10 Mandayan datus from Borneo, and their settlement in the island of Panay.
Now converted to Islam, the Tausug, Maranao and Maguindanao people had forgone their traditional writing for the Arabic script.
As these Islamic or Moro groups grew in wealth and power, they slowly push the other pagan or Lumad groups of Mindanao island towards the highlands. This leads to many wars and a final treaty in the 15th century over the territories to be held by the Moro and Lumad. However, as the Moros held many of the key coastal areas, the Lumad groups kept the highland territories. After almost a century of fighting, and migrating upland the Lumad people were now adopting to a rugged highland life, and also slowly lost their use of the Baybayin script.
By the 14th century AD, the people who were later to be known as the Mangyan escaped the wars from various islands in the Visayan area, including the coast areas of Mindoro island and climbed to the mountains. Just like their Cordillera counterparts, many of these communities devolved to a more primitive culture (as compared to the coast groups) and lost their use of the scripts. It is only the Buhid and Hanunoo people who were able to maintain their scripts, but the lack of material and contact with lowlanders lead to a devolution of their scripts from a cursive style to a more linear type.
Hanunoo Mangyan script
As many wars periodically occur throughout the islands, an immediate impact is felt on the calligraphic arts of the natives. Victors of the battles burned the written histories of the conquered, and thus erase their memories of their culture. This could be surmised how the Cordillera people have no oral history of how they decided to migrate to the mountains, and their origins are now spoken in myth. I assumed this, as this is a common tactic of subjugation by trying to destroy the identity of the people.
Another group of people who moved inland to escape the wars and slave raids were the Tagbanua and Palaweno people of Palawan. A sign that the Tagbanua were a more advanced culture before leaving for the forests is that their oral histories tell of their once being part of or in trade with the Sultanate of Brunei, yet have no recall of why they have been cut off or why they decided to move into the interior.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521 and the colonialization in 1565, Spanish scholars and priests attempted to document and preserve the Baybayin scripts as a means of evangelization.  The earliest colonial documentations of the Baybayin can be found in Miguel Legaspi’s chronicles and in the Boxer Codex (1590). Although the first official study of the baybayin is instigated by Fr. Martin de Rada, in 1580 Fr. Juan de Plasencia starts his own research which leads to the “Doctrina Christiana” (1593), a book of prayers written in baybayin.
The Lord’s Prayer from the Doctrina Christiana, 1593
Although Spanish scholars tried to preserve the Baybayin, by the 18th century the used of the Baybayin had become extinct among many of the native peoples. This can mainly be attributed to the people’s preference of the Latin alphabet as a means of writing, since the Latin alphabet was best suited to writing the new sounds introduced by the Spanish language. Another reason that has not yet been accounted for was the great depletion of the native population due to the introduction of new diseases by the Spaniards, which took a heavy toll on the natives before they developed an immunity to these new illnesses.
With the shift to the Spanish dictated townships and smaller populations many traditions were forgone by the people, including the use of the baybayin.
Although extinct in use, what the Spanish scholars had preserved in their documents lead to a renaissance of the baybayin in the 19th century. Baybayin became fashionable in expressing the unity of the natives to their ancient culture and heritage, as a sample is Andres Bonifacio’s use of the baybayin “K” in the flags of the revolutionary Katipunan group.
1896 Katipunan flag Magdalo faction
In the late 20th century to present time, the Baybayin is riding a new wave of popularity as an expression of national identity. From the logos of the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) and NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts), to bank notes, and even Baybayin meditation workshops; there is a grown romanticism of the script as well as earnest studies on its history and development.
CCP logo
I would like to think that this article is part of that thrust for a deeper understanding of the baybayin, away for the mystical romanticism. This is just a presentation of my thesis of the possible historic development of the baybayin and the culture of the Filipino people. I am presently still in the process of further research to prove my theories of migrations and the calligraphic expressions of the baybayin.
NCCA logo
Hopefully I will finish this research as my dissertation . . .

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