How a Lost Early Script, the Baybayin was Brought Back

Author: Christopher Chiong
Post Date: November 19, 2021

Baybayin is an aged writing system that was used way back in the Philippines. It was broadly used in Luzon and other parts of the Philippines 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 consciousness on the script. The word 'baybayín' means to spell or write in Tagalog language. From the information that is available, 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 arrived what we know today as the Philippines, it seems coherent that the Luzon and Palawan varieties started to develop in different ways during the 1500s. This puts Luzon and Palawan islands as the first regions where Baybayin was and is used in the Philippines. Baybayin has been labelled Badlit, Kudlit-kabadlit for the Visayans, Kurditan, Kur-itan for the Ilocanos, and Basahan for the Bicolanos in recent times. The 1593 Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala, the first printed book in a Philippine language, displaying both Tagalog in Baybayin and rewritten into Latin script. Baybayin was generally used for exclusive writings, poetry, etc. which was noted by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be defined by most Filipinos.

There were datus from the 1590s who could not write affidavits or oaths, and witnesses who could not sign land deeds in the 1620s given by to William Henry Scott. The hesitation over vowels (i/e and o/u) and final consonants, absent letters for Spanish sounds and the renown 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 common misinterpretation that fanatical Spanish priests must have burned or destroyed massive amounts of native documents. The most likely reason why no pre-Hispanic documents survived, according to scholar Paul Morrow who also noted that there are no written examples of ancient Filipinos writing on scrolls, is because they wrote on biodegradable materials such as leaves and bamboo. The only surviving recent scripts that based directly from the original Baybayin script through natural development are the Tagbanwa script left on from the Tagbanwa people by the Palawan people and named Ibalnan, the Buhid script and the Hanunóo script in Mindoro. The people who usually use Baybayin are Tagalog and a lesser extent Kapampangan speaking areas. The writing tools used to write Baybayin were called panulat and it is usually written upon palm leaves upon bamboo with knives.

Filipinos would sometimes write down lessons taught in church and some established keeping writings of their property and financial transactions all in Baybayin. The virtual keyboard app Gboard created by Google for iOS and Android mobile devices was updated on August 1, 2019 It is also achievable to type Baybayin right from the keyboard without the need to use online typepads.