Twenty-two years ago, former President Fidel V. Ramos issued a decree dedicating the month of August in observing National Language Month. Being one with the celebration, this article highlights the country’s resurrected ancient writing called Baybayin.
The Baybayin is a pre-colonial script writing system used mainly in Luzon and in several coastal areas in the Bicol and Visayan regions. The word “baybay” means the sea, seashore, or to spell out. It slowly disappeared years after Filipinos began using the Roman alphabet introduced by the Spaniards. Centuries later, Filipino artists turned to ancient scripts for calligraphy inspiration, prompting the Baybayin’s newfound fame.
The rave spurred a legislative move called the National Writing System Act. This requires local produce, street signs, public facilities and buildings to have inscriptions along with their translations. The act was criticized because of the Baybayin’s inherent limitations as a language in today’s modern and fast-paced lifestyle. Many also argue that this move perpetuates the prevailing Tagalog supremacy because Baybayin is only one of the several other ancient scripts of the Philippines.
There are 16 other scripts documented in the country with the Baybayin having the most accounts. The other remaining script is that of the Mangyan in Mindoro and Palawan, called the Surat or writing. While the Baybayin strokes are curved, the Surat is pointed and straight.
Experts grieve over the many documents in Baybayin destroyed during the Spanish era. Their only ray of hope were inscriptions in the Angono Cave in Rizal (a province in Luzon) and the Manunggul Jar in Palawan, carbon-dated 6000-2000 BC and 890-710 BC. The most recent find are the Monreal Stones unearthed in 2011. Being thousands of years old, what experts have now are conflicting views regarding its origins. One researcher even linked the symbols to giant clams due to their resemblance.
While scholars remain divided, the citizens warmly welcome the Baybayin. Filipinos are undoubtedly proud of the unique writing system. But looking beyond the beautiful characters, the Baybayin somehow strengthened the ties between the modern Filipino and its slowly forgotten roots.