Philippines’ writing system indicates evolving culture By Gloria Esguerra Melencio
The Philippine writing system that dates back from as early as 822 in the Hindu calendar and 900 Common Era (CE) in our present-day calendar indicates an evolving culture in the Southeast Asian region. There are many “dark rooms” in this field of study but rare archeological findings and data analysis of linguists, anthropologists, historians and educators provide a fresh outlook that shed light on its ancient mystery.
The system of writing involves not only an organized postal system but also gives an idea how the ancient Filipinos speak and talk to each other.
The Mangyans in Mindoro has this ancient postal system where a letter sent to someone who lives far away – be it just across the river or on top of the nth mountain – reaches the receiver without a messenger.
This ancient postal system which is practiced up to this day goes like this: The letter sender from the town center sends the letter and is received in a house or store along the main road; a Mangyan who happens to pass by gets the letter and brings the letter along up to the farthest place where he can bring it while on his way home. Should the volunteer postman’s direction is towards the left and the addressee on the letter‘s house is towards the right, he or she tucks the letter on a tree nearby before the volunteer postman goes on his own way. When another Mangyan passes by whose direction is towards the right, he or she gets the tucked letter and brings it along until the addressee on the letter receives the letter.
The Mangyans write the “ambahan” way, a form of heptasyllabic poetry with six lines in alibata, the Filipino early writing. They emboss their writing on a bamboo. Tourists in Mindoro can still see the embossed poems on some of the bamboo souvenir items sold in souvenir stores.
In 1989, archeologists were able to excavate the Laguna Copper Inscription (LCI) which writing is similar to the Mangyan alibata. Antoon Postma, a Dutch expert in ancient Philippine scripts and Mangyan writing and a long-time resident in Mindoro says that the writing looked similar to the ancient Indonesian script called Kavi. He analyzes the LCI must be written in the year 822 based on the Hindu calendar.
Hector Santos, a Filipino history buff based in California, made a historical detective work on the Laguna plate hammered into cold copper and discovers that the LCI was written on 21 April 900 CE. He says that its writing was a mixture of Sanskrit, old Javanese, old Malay and old Tagalog.
Postma also says that the inscription was a pardon from theChief of Tondo in Metro-Manila and the three towns of Bulacan in Paila, Pulilan and Binwangan. A town in Agusan del Norte, Mindanao called Dewata or Diwata also appeared in the text. Based on this discovery, Postma concludes that the writer of the LCI was an “inhabitant of the Philippines.” He also concludes that the writing in the LCI was used 500 years before the baybayin writing came to be used.
This development in the history of writing proves that Filipinos had already an advanced civilization. Inscribed debt payment involving thousands of pesos (’one kati and eight suwarna’ at that time) when converted to present-day calculations proves this claim.
In 1957, archeologists were able to dig the Calatagan Pot, a unique artifact where written ancient symbols have been the subject of analysis by historians, linguists and social scientists at present.
Called Calatagan Pot Inscription (CPI), the writing around the neck of the pot was estimated to be written between 14th and 16th centuries. It has the height of 12 centimeters tall, has 20.2 centimeters width and weighs 872 grams.
Dr. Juan Francisco, one of the experts who studied the CPI, says that the inscription was a combination of Surat Mangyan and Surat Tagbanuwa in Palawan. He belies some claims that the CPI is a fake because the geographical proximity of Calatagan, Batangas to Mindoro and Palawan may give credence to its authenticity.
Young professor Ramon Guillermo of the University of the Philippines’ College of Arts and Letters adds the excitement to discussion on the ancient scripts when he deciphered the writing on the CPI. In his paper entitled Ina Bisa Kata: An Experimental Decipherment of the Calatagan Pot Inscription, he says that the language is unknown but social scientists ahead of him posited the possibility that it was in the Tagalog or Mangyan language.
Dr. Guillermo presents the whole deciphered fragment in its current interpretation as follows:
Ina bisa kata Mother can say
Guna kita payaba For you my beloved child/ For our benefit beloved child
…. saya ….. … I … (This part is unreadable)
Kita sana mabasah There we/you get wet
Bagaikan bunga Like a flower
The Doctrina Christiana un Lengua Espanola y Tagala in 1593, according to linguists, was a “combination of baybayin and the Roman alphabet.
If the 19th century Filipinos had the term “Ladino”, a combination of Tagalog and Spanish languages that the elite spoke during that time, 16th century writing had this baybayin-Roman alphabet combination that shows the slow evolution of the Philippine writing through time.