Baybayin: An Ancient Text from the Philippines

Author: Jeg Cadayona
Post Date: November 20, 2021

Baybayin is an ancient writing system that was used way back in the Philippines. The people from Luzon broadly used this language during the 16th and 17th centuries. The House of Representatives approved a bill that would proclaim Baybayin as the national writing system of the Philippines in 2018. This bill will proclaim Baybayin as the country's national writing system which will generate appreciation to the script.

The term 'baybayín' is described as 'to write' or 'to spell (syllabize)' in Tagalog. From the notes 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. It seems clear that the Luzon and Palawan types have started to develop in different ways in the 1500s, way before the Spaniards conquered the Philippines. This puts Luzon and Palawan islands as the earliest regions where Baybayin was and is used in the Philippines. Baybayin has been defined Badlit, Kudlit-kabadlit for the Visayans, Kurditan, Kur-itan for the Ilocanos, and Basahan for the Bicolanos in modern times. The earliest printed book in a Philippine language, featuring both Tagalog in Baybayin and rewritten into Latin script, is the 1593 Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. Baybayin was acclaimed by the Spanish priest Pedro Chirino in 1604 and Antonio de Morga in 1609 to be named by Filipinos, and was generally used for intimate writings, poetry, etc. But, given 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. Eventually Baybayin fell out of use in much of the Philippines because of the hesitancy over vowels (i/e and o/u) and final consonants, missing letters for Spanish sounds and the regard of Spanish culture and writing may have contributed to the demise of Baybayin over time. Because there's incompleteness of pre-Hispanic specimens of usage of the Baybayin script has led to a habitual misconception that fanatical Spanish priests must have burned or destroyed massive amounts of native documents.

The scholar Paul Morrow also noted that there are no written samples of ancient Filipinos writing on scrolls, and that the most likely reason why no pre-Hispanic documents survived is because they wrote on decayable materials such as leaves and bamboo.

Scripts that are modern and surviving which directly constructed from the first 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 typically 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. Some Filipinos instituted keeping records of their property and financial transactions, and would write down lessons they were taught in church, all in Baybayin. For iOS and Android mobile devices, a virtual keyboard app Gboard was developed and updated last August 1, 2019. Directly typing Baybayin from the keyboard is also feasible without the need to use online typepads.