I once passed by a "Filipino fiesta" near the Moscone Center/Yerba Buena Gardens [San Francisco, CA] and so I checked out some of the booths. I saw these pretty cool shirts being sold with all sorts of weird-looking "characters" -- I mean letters, not people :-) -- which I figured must be from your native alphabet. Am I right? If so, what do you call it and does anybody in the Philippines actually still use it?
Thanks in advance for your reply, bud!
Yo Surfer Dude!
"Surfer" as in "Internet surfer" or "surfer" as in "California surfer"? If you're the latter, here's a link for you: The Top 10 Surf Sites in the Philippines as compiled by BISEAN. Just thought you'd appreciate knowing there's quite a few surfing spots where I was originally from in case you find yourself feeling adventurous one of these days.
|Baybayin (from The Bathala Project)|
Now, on to your questions.
You probably saw shirts with these characters found on the image on the left in that fiesta. It is a writing system called Baybayin and it was widely used in the islands now called the Philippines even up until the 19th century. More importantly, however, it was THE system of writing well before the Spaniards came and pretty much imposed the Latin alphabet (also called the Roman alphabet) on the natives they subjugated. As such, some refer to the writing system as a "pre-Filipino" because the term from where "Filipino" was derived, "Filipinas," was itself coined by the Spaniards in honor of their king, King Philip II. (Noteworthy for Filipino Catholics: King Philip II was the son of Charles V, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Clement VII.)
Mistakenly, others also refer to it as "Alibata," but this term is really a silly modern coinage by a member of the old National Language Institute, Paul R. Verzosa. Why? Because the term Alibata is a mash-up of alif, ba and ta, which are the first letters of the Arabic alphabet. Now, Alibata would probably be fine for people who are fine with formally calling the Latin alphabet as "ABC"; however, the problem in this case is, Baybayin is NOT even based on Arabic!
In fact, Baybayin is a member of the Brahmic or Indic family of scripts, which is not only alphabetic but actually and, more importantly, syllabary in nature: i.e., the letters are actually symbols which represent syllables.
According to Paul Morrow, a respected researcher in the field:
The word baybayin is a Tagalog term that refers to all the letters used in writing a language, that is to say, an “alphabet” – although, to be more precise, the baybayin is more like a syllabary. It is from the root baybáy meaning, “spell.” This name for the old Filipino script appeared in one of the earliest Philippine language dictionaries ever published, the Vocabulario de Lengua Tagala of 1613. Early Spanish accounts usually called the baybayin “Tagalog letters” or “Tagalog writing.”...[T]he Visayans called it “Moro writing” because it was imported from Manila, which was one of the ports where many products from Muslim traders entered what are now known as the Philippine islands. The Bikolanos called the script basahan and the letters, guhit.Now, here's the interesting part (for me at least): Although I earlier mentioned that Baybayin was actually used by the natives up until the 19th century, implying thereby that it died, the alphabet is actually "being resurrected thanks to young soul searching Filipinos," according to Christian Cabuay of Baybayin.com. This is especially true among the Filipino-Americans raised in the US, who seem to be yearning for meaningful cultural ties to their ancient forebears. Hence, I think you will increasingly see not only Baybayin-inspired shirts in Filipino fiestas but also real "Filipino characters" with tattoos of the weird characters you mentioned, like this lady for instance:
|Baybayin Tattoo (from pinoytattoos.com)|
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