People commit historic struggles to construct lessons about their changing society. This was how the indigenous Filipinos’ relationships with the foreign colonizers enriched and hampered their local, educational, and cultural experience. When the Spanish conquistadors came to settle in the Philippines in the mid-sixteenth century they were surprised to find a literate population—the people already knew how to read and write. This paper traces the social changes in baybayin literacy from the initial contact with Spanish missionaries in the Philippines to the introduction of the Romanized alphabet. Differences between modes of literacy and points of learning in another language are generally subject to social evaluation and social stigma. The integration of Philippine socio-cultural, socio-linguistic, and gender equity is the conceptual framework used in this paper.
When the Spanish conquistadors came to settle in the Philippines in the mid-sixteenth century they were surprised to find a literate population—the people already knew how to read and write. Miguel de Legazpi in 1567 indicated, “They have their letters and characters like those of the Malays, from whom they learned them; they write on bamboo bark and palm leaves with a pointed tool.” (Merino, 175: 292).The Malays referred to meant the Muslim merchants from Borneo and Luzon. The Jesuit, Father Chirino, who was in the Philippines from 1590 to 1604, noted that Manila by 1600 was almost 100 percent literate. He observed, “The people were so accustomed to writing and reading that there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write in letters proper to the island of Manila” (Chirino, 1602). Another Spanish observer, the historian Antonio de Morga wrote that almost all the natives, both men and women write in this language. He commented: “There are very few who do not write it excellently and correctly.” (Morga,1609).
2. Origin of the Baybayin Script
Contemporary research is not united in the origin of this pre-hispanic syllabary. Alzina, in 1668, said the Visayans had learned it from the Tagalogs, who in turn had learned it from the Borneans (Scott, 1984: 55, Bernad, 1972: 150). Professor Juan Francisco of Indo-Philippine studies (Francisco, 1994) believes that it is derived from an extant form of Sanskrit. The Buginese, Makassarese and Mandar alphabets of Celebes (Sulawesi) to the south of Philippines are considered the origins since they share a particular characteristic with the Philippine script—the inability to express a final consonant (Scott, 1984: 61). To anthropologist F. Landa Jocano it is enough that a system of writing among the ancient Filipinos existed and was universal in many parts of the archipelago. He comments, “They had a system of writing and had achieved almost a hundred per cent literacy rate,” (Jocano,1975: 235). Corpuz however, disputes that writing was universal in prehispanic Philippines (pp. 20-36).
2.1. Surviving Artifacts of the Ancient Script
There are three surviving artifacts exhibited in the Philippine National Museum bearing this ancient script. The first is a 15th century earthenware jar excavated in Calatagan, Batangas. The native script was inscribed around the shoulder rim. The rounded earthenware is slightly flattened at the bottom with a splayed wide rim, suggesting it was used as a container jar, not a cooking clay pot as some scholars say. The writing is in an ancient extant language and has not yet been fully deciphered. It is 12 centimeters high and 20.2 centimeters wide. The Batangas earthenware shape is very similar to a regular banga still in use in many traditional kitchens.
The second artifact is a silver bar with inscriptions found among the 1970 excavation pits in Butuan. This script did not resemble any of the syllabaries chronicled by the Spanish during the contact period. This silver strip is dated from the 12th to the 15th century and looters had gained access first rendering the archeological context of its site lost to scholars. An Indonesian paleographer, Boechari, recognized it as of Javanese origin—suggesting an early Hindu-Buddhist influence in Mindanao (Casals, 1991). The strip measures 17.8 centimeters long and 1.3 centimeters wide. On one side are 22 symbols etched by a metal point.
The third artifact of this ancient script is found in a copper plate. In 1990 an antique dealer obtained through pot hunters in Laguna Bay a thin copper plate measuring 20 by 30 centimeters wherein an old Malay script closely related to old Tagalog script is inscribed, and therefore Tagalog speakers can readily understand. The text is a certification of debts paid in substantial amounts of gold (Salcedo, 1998). There may be other artifacts, but these may have been written in perishable materials such as leaves, bark of trees, and bamboo nodes.
2.2. A Comparative Perspective: 1603 to 1645 in Europe and England
The archives of the University of Santo Tomas preserve more than a hundred specimens of Filipino signatures between 1603 to 1645 as well as two complete documents showing a variety of styles ranging from elegant cursive to awkward scrawls (Scott, 1984: 53).To put this in comparative perspective, from 1570 to 1590 in rural France, 3 to 10 percent among the men and none of the women knew their ABCs. Spain and Portugal at the dawn of the seventeenth century did not fare any better. Of Englishmen born in 1600, only 33–40 per cent were literate as measured by their ability to sign their names (Lockridge, 1981). David Cressy (1981) reports that in Norfolk and Suffolk, 95 per cent of the females sampled between 1580 and 1640 could not sign their names ( Mitch, 1982).
3. The Phonetic Baybayin: Baybayin’s Vowels
Chirino called this phonetic syllabary Las letras de Manila as shown in Figure 1. It was the native baybayin of three vowels and fourteen consonants.
Fig. 1. Las Letras de Manila, Chirino.
There are three vowels: A, U or O, I or E, which actually represent five sounds. According to Jose Rizal, there are orthographical rules for when E is pronounced I , and U to O and vice versa (Rizal,1890: 251-263). To him the Spaniards all got it wrong when they said that the Tagalogs used these vowels indifferently. A sociolinguistic explanation is that it is a regional variation. This is not only found among Filipinos. All languages in the world share this regional variation. In the US, for example, in some Southern dialects, pin is pronounced pen and ten for tin.
Nevertheless, Fox (1954) argues that these Philippine three-syllable interchangeable vowels “conform to a common phonemic pattern of Philippine contemporary language.” This pronunciation is the bane of all teachers of English in regional schools at present. The pervasiveness of the ancient pronunciation for supposedly interchanging vowel sounds is found not only among present-day students but among the educated and government officials as well. A recent newspaper in Manila commented on some Filipinos’ inability to pronounce vowels and certain consonants correctly. Journalist Leandro V. Coronel (1999: 7) of the Philippine Inquirer noted that cabinet members could not pronounce vowels and consonants properly. He writes:
“Isn’t it a shame that even Filipinos in high places can’t properly pronounce letters like “f,” “v,” and “ph”? Politicians cannot be consistent with their “fs” and “v’s” as when many pronounce “VFA” as “BFA.” We even mispronounce words we use regularly. Take the name of our country. Many Filipinos pronounce it “pilipins,” without the “f” pronunciation of “ph.” Of course, we also interchange “e” with “i,” and “o” and “u.”
3.2. The Obvious Question
On this unusual pronunciation predisposition, a reasonable person should be asking two obvious questions. Isn’t it anachronistic that the Spanish conquistador Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1542 named the archipelago “Las Islas Felipinas” in honor of Felipe who later became king of Spain (Schurz, 1985), ignorant that the natives cannot pronounce “F” since they do not have it in their native syllabary? Besides, the natives also tend to interchange their E’s to I’s .
Isn’t it doubly ironic that the Americans in 1898 anglicized the country’s name to “The Philippines” without much thought, thus reproducing this inexcusable mistake? Had the colonial governments exercised some sociolinguistic sense, Maynila, the sea port in Luzon bay, meaning the place where local indigo dye (nilad) is traded, or Lusong the native name for the main island, or for that matter, Mindanao, the place where floodwaters flow, would have been the most logical and natural choices which would have posed no vowel and consonant interference.
Twice, in its colonial history, Filipinos (Felipeños, if we want to adhere strictly to having been named after Felipe) had been humiliated in the sociolinguistic arena and made to appear stupid; a people considered so severely speech-deficient that they couldn’t even pronounce their own country’s name correctly.
3.3. Baybayin’s Consonants
There are fourteen consonants in the Baybayin: They are
ka, ga, nga, ta, da, na, pa, ba, ma, ya, la, wa, sa , ha ( Rizal, 1890)
K , G, NG, T, D, N, P, B, M, Y, L, W, S, H .
Each of the consonants changes in the vowel ending pronunciation according to the placement of a mark or korlet (kudlit) above or below the character. A dot above Ba made it either be or bi; a dot below made it either bo or bu.
3.5. Baybayin’s Writing Functions
The writing materials used were sections of bamboo and the letters were carved with a knife or sharp-pointed instrument. According to historian Bernad, (1972: 150) writing was more for sending messages than for recording transactions
However, the geographical orientation of the extent of usage by the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pangasinans, Pampangos, Visayans (Samar-Leyte, Negros), and in the islands of Mindoro and Palawan, all coastal or near coastal areas suggest writing was not only for sending messages but most certainly for inter trade transactions among themselves and with foreign traders (Jocano, 1975: 198-199).
3.6. The Codification and Standardization Process
Fig. 2. Standardization of the native script
Father Méntrida commented in his 1637 Arte de la Lengua bisaya-hiliguayna that different forms of individual scripts were currently in use. In 1663, Esguerra’s Arte de la Lengua bisaya gave alternate letterforms for the vowel e-i symbol by studying signatures in Spanish and Tagalog document.(Jocano, 1975: 48-49, Scott, 1994: 95). The Spanish priest-scholars began to standardize the variant baybayin script that proliferated among the vernacular groups (Scott, 1994: 60).
The seventeenth century variations standardized by López from several documents can be seen in Figure 2. It became easier to read the inscriptions. The vowel killer applied to the end of words ending in consonants improved reading rapidly because any reader can depend on orthography alone, unlike the old method where the orthography plus the contextual knowledge about what and when the inscription was written, were needed to give meaning to the text. In addition, a literate society found the transference to a new system of alphabet easy and most enlightening
There were some positive consequences of the romanization of the ancient syllabary. Through the codification of the vernaculars, the languages were preserved and accounts of the first contact with Spain survived. The negative consequences showed that instead of being able to transfer their literature and writings in the new form, their learning were proscribed to Christian doctrines and their writings of traditional topics were censured as succumbing to the work of the devil.
3.7. Current Users of the Script: Mindoro Bamboo Literacy
This ancient syllabary did not completely die out. Modern day Hanunoo Mangyans of Mindoro and Tagbanuas of Palawan have retained their traditional script writing. Nevertheless, there is no great literature coming out of these groups who write in the native syllabary. They remain marginal and peripheral to mainstream Filipino society. According to anthropologist Antoon Postma, this script is written from bottom to top so that when the bamboo reeds are laid down, it reads left to right (Postma, 1988: 224-225). The Mangyans write their ambahan poetry in this script.
4. The Doctrina Christiana
Within a relatively short period of time after the initial encounter, the Christian doctrine was diffused throughout the archipelago. The friars’ study of languages provided an interpretation of the Filipino way of life. In addition, it provided new mechanism for controlling the people (Phelan,1955 154-159). First came the new schema of the Latin alphabet. Concurrent with it came the Spanish religion; the native culture was the main casualty. The Augustianians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Recollects struggled valiantly to understand, speak and write the native language. However, the most vexing problems the Spanish met in the Philippines were the extent of linguistic diversity within the archipelago (Carroll, 1968: 62).
The first step in ending this “confusion of tongues” was to formulate a grammatology or a comparison of alphabets, words, and syntax. The Franciscans in 1580 seriously engaged in the systematic study of the native Tagalog vernacular and compiled a Tagalog dictionary For evangelization purposes, Juan de Placensia in 1593 printed the Doctrina Christiana, an instruction manual of prayers and catechism in Spanish and Philippine script with Tagalog wood blocks (Lach, 1977: 500). It provided an interlinear translation, Spanish on one side, Tagalog baybayin script on the other.
Fig. 4. Doctrina Christiana
As an unintended sociolinguistic consequence, this dictionary and the printed catechism in Spanish and Tagalog effectively established Tagalog (spoken only by a small minority of eleven and not more than fifteen per cent of the total population) as the power language in the island vis-à-vis the other languages.
The Doctrina was a proselytizing success and enjoyed several printings. It was distributed to several parishes. However, the natives were still reading the old baybayin script while studying the new alphabet. In 1663, Father Colin, the Jesuit missionary admitted that although “there is scarcely a man, and still less a woman who does not know and practice this old writing method,” he complained the people “cling fondly to their own method of writing and reading” and was rueful that indeed “even those who are already Christian in matters of devotion” are guilty of this practice. (Blair and Robertson, 1903: 37-97).
5. The Transliteration Effect
5.1. Reordering of Baybayin Sequence
As the Spanish in the Philippines became adept at the language, their European prejudices and Spanish cultural framework shaped their work according to the principles of Latin and Iberian orthography, grammar, and culture. This effort effectively subverted the ancient script to conform to the linguistic scholars of the age. One example is the rearrangement of the sequence of the Philippine syllabary from the original ordering beginning with K, G, Ng, Ta—this order or sequence of letters is derived from the study of Dr. Pardo de Tavera (1890) entitled “Contribution to the Study of the Old Filipino Alphabet”— to the Latin alphabetical order of A B C D hence the Abakada..
In a personal correspondence with baybayin expert Dr. Jean Paul Potet he called our attention to the Rizal’s ordering of the baybayin. It was not the original sequence but a Sanskrit syllabary order. He said: “////////////////////////” (email correspondence,July 2,2001.)
5.2. .Substitution of consonants to Spanish Alphabet
The Spanish alphabet had no W or NG so Father Chirino omitted these letters from his transliterated Philippine alphabet, thus timawa (freeman) became timagua. Even today, a place spelled Wawa in Pampanga in the new orthography is Hispanized and spelled Guagua, in the same manner that the Central American country called Watemala by natives has a Hispanized spelling of Guatemala. “R” was introduced.
6. Socio-cultural Effects of the Roman Alphabet Change
The Roman alphabet was introduced and by it the entire social structure of Philippine society was affected. Reading and writing the Romanized alphabet was easily learned. The transfer of knowledge came next.
In order to teach this transliteral alphabet, schools had to be established—of course church sponsored. Before admission, one has to be a Catholic. To be a Catholic, one has to be baptized. This sacrament effectively obliterated the Filipino indigenous names.
6.1. Onomastic or Naming Patterns
In baptism, a child has to be given a name. Before the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous Filipino girls’ names were sunshine (Luningning), stars (Bituin), virtues (Mayumi), and other special characteristics. Boys were named for heroic deeds (Bayani), birds (Kalaw) valor, (Magtanggol), among others.
In the changed social structure, the parish priests had a formula for naming Filipino children. A calendar or almanac of feast days was consulted (Joaquin, 1979). If a boy was born on March 19, a perusal of the calendar of saints says it is the feast day of San José. Ergo, the boy is automatically named José. If it is a girl, her name becomes Josefa.. A girl born on December 8 is named Maria Concepcion, or Maria Inmaculada, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It is supposed to be simple and straightforward. An almanac had to be written; its use must be taught in church sermons in the pulpit. It was a required household reference book.
With this Christianization effort, they who held their practice of naming their children according to their own family tradition were divested of this patronymic right (Flores, 1997). Suddenly a new generation of Filipinos was carrying Hispanic given names. Unlike other countries where grandchildren naturally receive their grandparent’s names and there is a mechanism to trace one’s ancestry back in time, in the case of the Filipinos, this onomastic pattern was aborted. Thus an intergenerational line could never be traced.
6.2. New Literacy had a social function.
The old script became completely obsolete with very few exceptions. Most importantly this change effectively rendered the literate Filipinos illiterate. Ironically, this inadequacy was used by the colonizers to argue that the Filipinos were not yet civilized.
What else did the early Filipinos own that was taken away? A denigration effect was especially directed towards the women.
6.3. Gender Inequality Effects
Before the Spaniards came, Filipino women enjoyed the same privileges, rights, and opportunity as men (Manansan, 1998: 194). Daughters grew up active as sons in work, training, and trade. They had economic power. Inheritance was divided equally among male and female children. Kinship ties were (still are) traced bilaterally from the woman’s and man’s line. Divorce was initiated not by husbands alone but by wives as well. Women retained their maiden names in marriage (Tapales, 1992). The Filipina also enjoyed political and educational power. The woman’s personal signature by and of itself is a lawful symbol of the authentication of any document because of their proven reliability in fulfilling contracts (de la Costa, 1965: 9). Women’s signatures were required to make any transactions valid. When the Spaniards set up their settlements in Luzon, they were shocked by the freedom manifested by the Filipina. Most of all they were shocked at the high position of the local babaylan women.
7. The Babaylan or Native Priesthood Class
Essentially, the local priesthood was a priestess-hood: the babaylan, the traditional repository of cultural and esoteric knowledge. Linguistically, the term babaylan (the priestess class), baybayin (native script), babae (woman, variant: Babaye), and Binibini (woman leader) are interrelated in etymology and in orthography (Flores, 2001). McCoy (1982) writes that the most common term for spirit medium in insular South East Asia is derived from the classical Malay word belian-belian, or waylan in Java, Bali, Borneo and Halmahera; bailan or baylan among the interior population of Mindanao; and baylan or babaylan in he Visayan and Central Philippines.
7.1.An Etymology of Baybayin
In current usage the word baybayin means “to spell, to write a word in order.” A second meaning is “beach” or coastline (English, 1986). Does it mean this native script was used in trade routes normally the seacoasts or beach? Or was the Filipino woman perhaps the real “speller” suggesting that she was the principal “user” of the old traditional script? Were they the recognized culture bearers of society? Were they the more literate group?
7.1.1 “Literate” versus “Illiterate”
According to Michael Clancy (1981) in medieval England, the clergy (the clericus) was associated with literacy in Latin, (literatus). In a sense this differentiated the clergy as a select group in the service of God. This distinction is a social construction of the Middle Ages. Europe had created an elite of priests who monopolized writing. The opposite of clericus is laicus, or the ordinary people, the (laicus) or laymen. In time, the proposition that was advanced became crystallized as an axiom where clericus is the antithesis of laicus, and literatus is the opposite of illiteratus. It is no accident that the Spanish chroniclers who reported the literacy of the indigenous Filipino women were members of the clerici.
As a product of their medieval time, the Spanish in the Philippines, during the contact, tended to question the literacy of the laity. As a case in point, repeatedly, the Spanish chroniclers kept adding the incredulous parenthetical phrase, “there is scarcely a man, and still less a woman who did not write, “both men and women write in this language. ” Corpuz (1989: 20-36) cites Morga saying “virtually all people, the women more than men, not only knew how to write but also loved doing so.” Alcina writes about the difficulty of reading which is more guessing than pronouncing: “It is easy to learn, and most women read with dexterity and without stumbling.” (Scott: 96). We underscored the reference to women here.
In many traditional ancient cultures, the first to possess the art of writing was the priestly caste. As we have seen, in prehispanic Philippines, this priestly office was primarily a woman’s domain, which leads us to believe that women, more than men could have done much of the baybayin writing. Could certain groups have been the members of an indigenous Secretariat, the medieval English counterpart of the scrivener class perhaps, who recorded the laws and orders promulgated by the council of community elders?
7.2. Women Kept in Place
When the Spanish Inquisition’s office in Manila persecuted the babaylans, branded them as witches, burned them at the stakes, threw the babaylan’s writings into the fire, the ancient script was efficiently removed. These burned documents were not only religious and ritualistic incantations but also contained metaphorical statements for arranging marriages, ritual ceremonies, dowry contracts (given to the bride’s parents), eulogy dirges, genealogical records, onomastic naming practices, birth records, wills, blessings, recipes for healing herbs, organic cosmetics and the like (Flores, 2000). All these documents were lost, and with it was the accompanying loss of a peoples’ cultural capital.
The idea of the Filipina did not fit into the Hispanic concept of how woman should be and behave in society. The friars most especially set out to remold her according to the image of the perfect woman of Iberian society, imposing the European restrictive norms of behavior of the times. Through the colonial experience, the Filipino woman was domesticated (taught only domestic skills).
8. Honorific Titles Based on Achievement
The loss of a native script also precipitated a change in the structure of Filipino’s way of acknowledging individual achievement. Socially the early Filipinos were quite deferential to people of attainment. Filipinos do not call people by their given names alone. There is always a polite title attached when referring to somebody by name. For example, when Magellan came in 1521, his Chronicler Pigafetta identified the leaders he met as Siawi, Simiut, Sibuaia, Sisacai. Contrary to what contemporary Balarila textbooks say that SI in front of names is an indefinite pronoun, the Si in front of the names is an honorific title, show of respect, much like the Shri in India (Scott,1994).
8. 1. Traditional Achievement and Performance Oriented Filipino Titles
This was a new paradigm to the Europeans who were differential only to people of superordinate rank and saw events through European lenses and capable of interpreting different cultures in misleading and sometimes pejorative ways. For example, it is not expected that conquistadors would call their subordinate subjects by their titles and traditional respectful addresses. This must look incongruous and inappropriate. The honorifics such as Gat (leader), Lakan (chief), Sri (respected) Dayang (lady of high integrity), Binibini (well bred lady) (Scott, 1994: 196) were translated to Don and Doña which in the first place carried connotations of having been hispanicized, implying subjugation. Furthermore, these Spanish titles were also seen as race-based (Spanish or mestizos) and wealth-driven.
The title Dayang was cast away, obliterated, and assigned to the dust-heap of colonial history. Only the Muslim royalty carry this title today. Binibini was stripped of its rank and exists only as the equivalent of the Spanish Señorita or the modern Miss. Si became a grammar casualty; now used as an indefinite personal pronoun. The original Filipino titles of respect for leadership and greatness were sometimes hereditary but more often than not, were acquired, not ascribed titles (Lynch, 1963:.163-191). Even today, Filipinos insist on addressing a person of attainment Attorney Flores, or Engineer Cruz; vestiges of achievement and performance titles.
8.2. Residues of archaic and suppressed Tagalog modes of honorific titles
Occasionally Filipino extant titles resurface in contemporary Filipino surnames like Gatmaitan, Gatdula, Gatchalian, Gatpuno, Gatbonton, Magat, Lakandula, Lacanlale, and Lakambini.
Lakambini, was reserved for women leaders. However, the Spanish were highly skeptical of the idea of a woman chief no matter how meritorious, valorous or nobly born. After all, their own Queen Juana, who was a legitimate ruler, was officially called, Juana, la loca. Thus they reduced Philippine women titles to a generic form. To add insult to injury, beauty contest promoters of today have bowdlerized it as the title for beauty queen winners of Miss Philippines competitions from prestigious national pageants down to lowly barrio fiestas.
Philippine society a few decades after the initial contact with the Spanish brought social changes and social mobility. From a community characterized as simplistic where mobility is permeable and egalitarian to some extent, it turned into a highly stratified one with unequal access and social and educational opportunity. In the course of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, out of a society overlaid with Catholicism, Hispanic culture, and western thought, there emerged according to James Fallows (1989) a “damaged” society continually robbed of its ingenuity, initiative, self-esteem, and most importantly its literacy. In this paper, we suggest that among other things, the core of this social malaise may be traced far back to the replacement of the era when nearly the total population was literate in the ancient baybayin system.