Lost Old Handwriting System from the Philippines: The Baybayin

Author: Christopher Chiong
Post Date: June 09, 2021

The Philippines, many years ago, has an ancient writing system called Baybayin. The people from Luzon widely used this language during the 16th and 17th centuries. In 2018, the Philippine House of Representatives approved a bill that would state Baybayin as the national writing system of the country.

The measure seeks to state Baybayin as the Philippines’ national writing system, generating greater recognition on the script. The term 'baybayín' is described as 'to write' or 'to spell (syllabize)' in Tagalog. From the material that is obtainable, it is clear that Baybayin was used in Luzon, Panay, Leyte and Iloilo, but there is no proof supporting that Baybayin reached Mindanao. Way before the Spaniards conquered what we know today as the Philippines, it seems understandable that the Luzon and Palawan varieties started to develop in different ways during the 1500s. The regions that has used Baybayin the oldest in the Philippines are the islands of Luzon and Palawan. In current times, Baybayin has been labelled Badlit, Kudlit-kabadlit for the Visayans, Kurditan, Kur-itan for the Ilocanos, and Basahan for the Bicolanos.

The 1593 Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala, the oldest printed book in a Philippine language, depicting both Tagalog in Baybayin and rewritten into Latin script. Baybayin was generally used for intimate writings, poetry, etc. which was acclaimed by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be known by most Filipinos. But, descibed by to William Henry Scott, there were datus from the 1590s who could not sign affidavits or oaths, and witnesses who could not sign land deeds in the 1620s. The hesitation over vowels (i/e and o/u) and final consonants, missing letters for Spanish sounds and the stature of Spanish culture and writing may have contributed to the demise of Baybayin over time, as eventually Baybayin fell out of use in much of the Philippines. Because there's incompleteness of pre-Hispanic specimens of usage of the Baybayin script has led to a familiar missapprehension that fanatical Spanish priests must have burned or destroyed massive amounts of native documents. The scholar Paul Morrow also noted that there are no recorded cases of ancient Filipinos writing on scrolls, and that the most likely reason why no pre-Hispanic documents survived is because they wrote on decomposable materials such as leaves and bamboo. The only surviving current scripts that established directly from the indigenous Baybayin script through natural development are the Tagbanwa script passed on from the Tagbanwa people by the Palawan people and named Ibalnan, the Buhid script and the Hanunóo script in Mindoro. Baybayin usually was used in Tagalog and to a lesser extent Kapampangan speaking areas.

The writing tools used to write Baybayin were called panulat and it is usually recorded upon palm leaves upon bamboo with knives. Filipinos would sometimes write down lessons taught in church and some started keeping records of their property and financial transactions all in Baybayin. The virtual keyboard app Gboard programmed by Google for iOS and Android mobile devices was updated on August 1, 2019 It is also feasible to type Baybayin directly from the keyboard without the need to use online typepads.