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Learn more about the history of the Baybayin script, an ancient writing system in pre-colonial Philippines

Baybayin, with the root word baybay meaning "to spell", is an ancient writing system. Based on written accounts and research gathered over the years, it is suggested that the Baybayin script was being used by the residents of the archipelago during the pre-colonial period.

The use of Baybayin

Long before the Spanish colonisation, Baybayin was believed to be used across the Philippines, particularly in Luzon. Although scholars had difficulty in tracing the date when the script was first used, many would claim that the Baybayin script was most likely derived from one source, considering that most of the scripts that were found in Luzon, Palawan, and Visayas had similar features.

Researchers would say that people who used this ancient script would etch the characters on leaves, tree barks, bamboo, or even the Laguna Copperplate which was discovered in 1989 within the mouth of the Lumbang River in Laguna.

The inscriptions on the Laguna Copperplate were deciphered thanks to anthropologist and linguist Antoon Postma, who married a Mangyan and dedicated his life to researching the Baybayin. He, together with Dr Johann de Casparis, found that the copperplate was used as a receipt of debt.

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Other findings, however, show that there were also poetry and love letters produced using the script.

The script can also be seen on waving flags in the possession of the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK). Years later, it's still present on the country's youth organisation's flags, proudly held by individuals who have embraced their identity.

Preservation of an extinct script

Fortunately, the syllabic script of Buhid and Hanunoo Mangyan people from Mindoro have been retained. The script, however, appear to have a linear writing style compared to the cursive style of the Tagalog, Ilokano, Visaya, Bikolano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagbanua, and Palaweno.

To prevent the writing system from being completely extinct, the National Museum began projects including conferences to promote awareness of the Baybayin’s importance.

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There’s now also a newfound interest in the ancient script. However, a modernised version of the Baybayin—which allows spaces between words and includes consonants—is now being used in many ways.

It can be seen on university costumes, underpass signs, products, and even on manga. Although the resurgence of the use of the ancient script is slow, it shows promise.