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by Bonifacio F. Comandante, Jr. / Asia Social Institute
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ABSTRACT
Miguel Lopez de Legaspi first experienced the linguistic diversity of the Philippine
Archipelago on 1565. In the succeeding years, Catholic missionaries were heaping praises
on the excellencies of Baybayin Language, not hesitating to compare it even to the Hebrew,
Greek and Latin, the prestigious language of the letters and religion that time.
Fletcher Gardner in 1938 quoted Luyon wife of Yagao (Tribal Mangyan) as saying, “Our
writing never changes as it is taught to the children.” Extant Baybayin scripts such as
Tagalog, Ilocano, Bisaya, Bohol, Bicol, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Hinunoo, Buhid, Bangon
and Tagbanwa have been found very recently to predate the birth of Christ.
While Filipinos lost the ancient art of writing in favor of the Spanish Orthography, the spoken
Baybayin language fortunately enough has flourished to this very day. Long before the
arrival of the Spaniards, Baybayin has been used in detailing personal and domestic
interests, postal scheme, writing poems, art works, healing modalities and conducting rituals
for festivities and spirituality. Higher education back then was done by teachers called
“Pantas.”
BAYBAYIN LANGUAGE AND SCRIPT
The Philippine Baybayin belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian languages (also referred as
Austronesian) that are widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the
Pacific, with a few members extending to Asia mainland. It is one of the best-established
ancient language families at par with Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic and Uralic written and
spoken forms. Austronesian comes from Latin auster "south wind" and Greek nêsos or
"island". Austronesian is aptly termed as the vast majority of syllabic languages are spoken
on archipelagic domains and islands. According to Otto Dempwolff, a German scholar,
although many Austronesian languages have very few speakers, the major Austronesian
languages are spoken by tens of millions of people. It comprises 1268 spoken and written
forms or one-fifth of the known languages of the world. The geographical span of the
homelands of its languages is also among the widest, ranging from Madagascar to Pacific
Polynesia (Bellwood 1991).
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Fig 1: Baybayin Script (Doctrina Christiana 1593)
The Philippine Baybayin is one of a dozen or so individual syllabary from Southeast Asia
comprising Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi which are believed to be derived from ancient
India that share the Sanskrit characteristic where consonants are pronounced with a
succeeding vowel marked by diacritical accents. While previous literatures points to the
Sanskrit and SE Asian origins of Baybayin, this paper will show that the Syllabary is
endemic to the Philippines. An associative origin linking Baybayin script to Giant Clams
(Kabibe or Taklobo) was studied by Comandante and a subject of his Dissertation.
GIANT CLAMS
What are Giant Clams? Known in Palawan as Taklobo, these are the largest living bivalves
that produce massive lime shells through calcium carbonate biomineralization. Giant clams
comes in various sizes, the smallest measures six inches and the largest over four feet in
lenght. The big ones can weigh more than 200 kilograms (comparable to one drum of oil).
Taklobo shells have symbiotic relationship with microscopic algae known as zooxanthellae
that provides 90% nutrition of the animal by way of phothosynthesis. The photosymbionts or
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algae live inside the soft tissues of the clam called mantle that receives sunlight and convert
energy into Taklobo food. The mantle or meat (common favorite-manlet, a smaller variety)
is eaten by coastal dwellers but the adductor muscle responsible for the shell opening and
closing is a delicacy.
The picture below was taken on May 07, 2009 in Matina, Davao City. The meter long giant
calm was excavated right where the restaurant is located on top of a hill overlooking the
city. Evidences of large clams found all over the island are testimonies why in 1526, five
years after landing in Philippine shores, the Spaniards named Mindanao Gran Moluccas.
.
Fig 2. Davao Taklobo Fossils
HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS
The 1590 Boxer Codex, the first book written about Filipinos, explicitly mentioned of Filipino
adeptness in Baybayin speaking and writing. Women were particularly singled out as well
versed in writing on leaves and bamboo (Roces 1977). Baybayin enabled Filipinos to
understand each other, transcending regionalism and ethno-linguistic differences. Boxer
Codex mentioned of how Bisayans can understand Tagalog well. This can be partly
explained by the compilation made by Pardo de Tavera in 1884 as seen below:
As seen in the previous figure, Baybayin similarities among the various groups based on
geographical locality where very clear suggesting each others’ ability to comprehend similar
symbols and connotations.
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It took the Spaniards 72 years to begin twisting our ancient Baybayin. By the time Doctrina
Christiana was published in 1593, many Filipinos slowly started abandoning the use of
Baybayin in favor of the Latinized Tagalog based on Spanish Orthography. Signing of
names became fashionable using the newly introduced alphabetic Abakada.
Outside Mangyan and Tagbanwa syllabary, usage of Baybayin today is confined to fancy
writing and body tattoo. Going back to our ancient roots, difficult as it may sound, may lead
us to understanding our identity as Filipinos.
OBJECTIVE
The primaryobjective of this paper is to show the central role giant clams provided in the
development of the ancient Baybayin Script (incorrectly branded as Alibata) and show how
the script was used by early inhabitants of the archipelago. An interdisciplinary approach
related to marine Science (biology), plant science (botany) and the study of human beings
(anthropology) was employed. In particular, archaeology, evolution of language and
place-names were synthesized to relate symbols and word meanings (particularly the
Manunggul Jar). of the various data syntheses were analyzed as to its validity in terms of
appropriateness and cohesiveness.
SIGNIFICANCE
This seminal study on the origins of Ancient Filipino Script may open doors to things that
were either neglected or taken lightly in the past. Initially, studies on the Malayo-Polynesian
language and its dispersal will have to be taken from this new perspective. Historical
propagation studies of anthropogenic imprints and cultural practices associated with giant
clams around the Philippines, Southeast Asia and beyond will likely be affected by this
study. This will lead to a deeper look and analysis of the migration patterns of early Asians.
Betel chewing, festivities and burial practices including goods associated with it will have
new twists and meanings. Artifacts and Potteries belonging to the Neolithic and subsequent
periods must be reexamined and studied based on these new developments.
PRE-SPANISH PERIOD
Filipino Baybayin syllabary, the probable root source of different Philippine dialects like
Tagalog, Visayan and Ilokano has a deep mysterious past. A paper presented by Jaime F.
Tiongson at the 8th Conference on Philippine Studies describes circumstances surrounding
the discovery of an evidence for the old writing and initial impressions on it.
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Fig 3: Baybayin Script Collection of Tavera in 1884
“A copperplate measuring 8 x 12 inches was recovered in a sand quarry located at
Barangay Wawa, Lumban, Laguna in 1989 and was sold from one antique dealer to
another until it was bought by the Philippine National Museum. The Philippine National
Museum named the artifact the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. The Philippine National
Museum was able to translate the script written on the copperplate through the efforts of
Antoon Postma of the Mangyan Heritage Center in Oriental Mindoro. The Laguna
Copperplate Inscription was written using Kavi script and one of seventeen “Old Malay”
inscriptions so far found in South East Asia. According to the initial findings of some
scholars, the language used in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription is Old Malay with a
mixture Sanskrit technical terms, Old Java, Old Tagalog or even Old Balinese.
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Fig 4: The Laguna Copper Plate
But in concluding his work, Jaime Tiongson had this to say:
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription without doubt was written using Tagalog with Sanskrit
technical terms. This author proposes the use of the name LCI Tagalog to differentiate it
from the Old Tagalog defined by Pedro de San Buenaventura.
Still, a probable older evidence of the ancient Filipino Baybayin script can be found in the
Calatagan Pot. Professor Zeus Salazar has estimated Calatagan pot to be 1000 years old
based on Histographical Methodology - terminus post quem and terminus ante quem.
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Fig 5: Lord’s Prayer in Baybayin & Latinized Tagalog
SPANISH PERIOD
Early impressions on the Filipino language and script were documented in the Boxer Codex
and Doctrina Christiana; the first two books written about the Philippines and its people
which were dated 1590 and 1593 respectively. The importance of Boxer Codex unique
manuscript lies in the descriptions, historical allusions and the faithful reproductions of the
peoples and their costumes. It mentioned the Ancient Filipino Script as follows (transcribed,
translated and annotated from 1590 text: Spanish to English):
”They have certain characters that serve them as letters with which they write what they
want. They are very different looking from the rest that we know up to now. Women
commonly know how to write with them and when they write do so on the bark of certain
pieces of bamboo, of which there are in the islands. In using these pieces which are four
fingers wide, they do not write with ink but with some stylus that breaks the surface and bark
of the bamboo, to write the letters....For this purpose they have letters which total only
seventeen. Each letter is a syllable and with certain points placed to one or the other of a
letter, or above or below, they compose words and write and say with these whatever they
wish.”
The first Spanish missionary who studied Philippine languages was the Augustinian Martin
Page9 Of 14
de Rada (1533-1578) known to have conversed Visayan and Chinese well. However, a
systematic study of the Filipino language came only on 1580 when Franciscan Juan de
Plasencia from Extremadura, Spain undertook a structured project on the languages. A
jewel of the project was the publication of the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua española
y tagala, 1593. The book printed in Manila included confesonarios, (confessionals)
doctrinas cristianas, (Christian doctrines) and other devotional material written in Tagalog.
The Lord’s Prayer written in Baybayin Script and transcribed to Spanish orthographic letters
as it appeared in the book (below):
Fig 6: Pot and Inscriptions- 2008
EARLY BAYBAYIN SCRIPT RELEVANCE
Miguel Lopez de Legaspi first experienced the linguistic diversity of the Philippine
Archipelago on 1565 (Chirino 1604). In the succeeding years, Catholic missionaries were
heaping praises on the excellencies of Baybayin Language, not hesitating to compare it
even to the Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the prestigious language of the letters and religion
that time (Phelan 1924).
Don Pedro Andres de Castro in his Ortografia(1930) quoted Fr. Francisco de San Joseph
(who died in 1580) as saying, “…and also to comprehend its mysteries and profound
concepts” in relation to studying and learning Baybayin Scripts by priests at that time.
Baybayin and later Latin were used by early Filipinos in practicing their beliefs.
An attempt to show the “mysteries of Baybayin,” was done by Bonifacio Comandante Jr
through another pioneering work. In a collaborative experiment with the University of the
Philippines at Los Baños, Baybayin Scripts were shown to possess “subtle energies.” The
tests on bean seed germination gave a window of opportunity to show energies attributable
to the script. A Project dubbed Tapal Tanim® be tested on a commercial scale this year
using sweet potato as crop (UPLB seed experimental results are seen below):
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Fig 7: Baybayin Subtle Energies Experiments
Fletcher Gardner in 1938 quoted Luyon wife of Yagao (Tribal Mangyan) as saying, “Our
writing never changes as it is taught to the children.” A few Ethnolinguistic Groups have
opted to minimize cultural exchange with lowlanders and hence, have maintained some
degree of passing knowledge distinctly practiced prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. It is
noteworthy that some elite groups (up until now) around revered mountains like Mt
Banahaw have preserved the old practice of passing knowledge through word of mouth.
The author has firsthand accounts of this practice (Photo Below).
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Fig 8: Banahaw Maharlika Group
Control
Extant Baybayin scripts that may have been the precursor of geographical forms such as
Tagalog, Ilocano, Bisaya, Bohol, Bicol, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Hinunoo, Buhid, Bangon
and Tagbanwa have been found very recently to predate the birth of Christ. A seminal
lecture delivered by Comandante at UP Diliman Archaeological Studies Program last
January 13, 2010 presented the presence of Baybayin Scripts on the Manunggul Jar found
in the same named cave that was carbon dated to 890-710 BC.
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Fig 9: Manunggul Baybayin Inscriptions
While Filipinos lost the ancient art of writing in favor of the Spanish Orthography, the spoken
Baybayin language fortunately enough has flourished to this very day. Long before the
arrival of the Spaniards, Baybayin has been used in detailing personal and domestic
interests, postal scheme, writing poems, art works, healing modalities and conducting rituals
for festivities and spirituality. Higher education back then was done by teachers called
“Pantas.”
The Laguna Copper Plate (900 AD) is a good example on how the Baybayin Script was
used for personal and domestic interests. Antoon Postma, a Dutch expert on Baybayin and
Mangyan Scripts said that the inscription was a pardon from the Chief of Tondo that erased
the debt of a man named Namwaran. His debt was one kati and eight suwarna, or about
926.4 grams of gold. In addition, Frs. Manuel Buzeta and Felipe Bravo in their book
Diccionario mentioned that ancient Filipinos wrote to take note of the carabaos they owned
including other details of personal interests.
Yamoan (Mangyan native) from Bulalacao, Mindoro describes an ancient postal service. “A
bamboo writing is placed in a split stick which is set upright on the road. If a Mangyan
should pass that way who knows how to write and read, if he sees that the writing should go
on his direction, he carries the letter until he sees another to carry it of arrives at the
destination to which it is sent.” (Gardner and Maliwanag 1938).
Healing modality is one very important function of the Baybayin Script. Women in the old
times were better adept to the Syllabary because of this specific need. A fresh leaf (usually
banana) is passed over fire before Baybayin Scripts are written and applied on the skin of
patients. Babaylan Tita of Majayjay and Lola Anisya of Luisiana (both in Laguna) still
practice this method but uses mixed script forms and paper instead of leaves. Baybayin
Healing is still very much alive today.
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Fig 10: Mother of Lola Anisya (106 yrs old)
People who have mustered the uses of Baybayin for personal/domestic , postal services,
writing poems, art works, healing modalities and conducting rituals for festivities and
spirituality may have been rightfully called Pantas. Fr. San Buena Ventura (1613) aptly
provided the meaning-distinction of being called a Pantas. The word has five Spanish
equivalent and twenty three additional descriptive Tagalog co-meanings as seen below:
Tagalog Word 1613 Spanish meaning 1613 Tagalog co-meanings (including extinct words)
Pantas Abil Talastas, Tatas, Bait, Talos, Talogigi, Sicap
Pantas Sabio Donong, Sayot
Pantas Suficiente Ayac, Sucat
Pantas Consumado Lubus, Uacas, Atop, Otop, Paham
Pantas Entender
Malay, Camit, Laman, Silir, Mouang, Macmac, Tanto, Talastas,
Tatas, Taman
Babaylans or Catalonas were the dominant figures in terms of educating the youth in the
olden times. These women (also men) “Pantas” were responsible for selecting and molding
the next generation of teachers in the ancient times. Oral traditions were taught under the
moonlight as experienced by old folks who are still living to this date. These were story
telling series resembling the popular episode of Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang. Teaching
Baybayin script and proper writing were the turf of mothers. This practice without doubt was
the first home-based education. But overall, we can claim that Baybayin was indeed the
very first Mother Tongue Based Education. After all, it may be the only surviving ancient
script today. It makes us proud to be a Pilipino!
Literature Cited:
Bellwood, Peter (July 1991). "The Austronesian Dispersal and the Origin of Languages".
Page14 Of 14
Scientific American 265: 88–93.
Castro, D. Pedro Andres de, “Ortografia y Reglas de la Lengua Tagalog Acomodedas a sus
Propios Caracteres”, ed. By Antonio Graifio (Madrid: Victoriano Suatez, 1930), p.18.
Chirino, Pedro, “Relacion de las islas Filipinas i de lo que en ellas en trabahado los padres
de la Compasiia de Iesus Rome: Esteven Paulino”, 1604.
Comandante, Bonifacio Jr, “The Development of Ancient Baybayin Script” (Ph.D.
Dissertation) N.p. 2009
Doctrina Christiana, The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593. A Facsimile of
the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library.
Gardner, Fletcher, “Philippine Indic Studies”: San Antonio, Texas: Witte Memorial Museum,
1943.
Gardner, Fletcher and Idelfonso Maliwanag, “Indic Writing of the Mindoro Palawan Axis” (2
vols.; San Antonio Texas: Witte Memorial Museum, 1938 and 1940), II, 6.
Fortich, Oropilla, Deciphered secrets: the Calatagan pot
Phelan, John Leddy, “Philippine Linguistics and Spanish Missionaries” (1565-1700), 1924.
Postma, Antoon. 1992. “The Laguna Copperplate Inscription,” Philippine Studies :183-203.
Roces, Alfredo R., ed. (1977), "Boxer Codex", Filipino Heritage: the Making of a Nation, IV,
Philippines: Lahing Pilipino Publishing, Inc.
Salazar, Zeus http://zasalazar.multiply.com/journal/item/8
San Buenaventura, Pedro de, “Vocabulario de Lengua Tagala” (O.F.M Pila, Laguna,1613)
Tiongson, Jaime F. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription and the Route to Paracalein
“Heritage and Vigilance: The Pila Historical Society Foundation Inc. Programs for the Study
and Preservation of National Historical Landmarks and Treasures,” presented at Seminar
on Philippine Town and Cities: Reflections of the Past, Lessons for the Future, Pasig City,
2006.
UNESCO. (1965). “The art of writing”. Germany: United Nations Educational, Social, and
Cultural Organization.

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