The recent years have seen a revival of sorts in the popularity of the alibata, the Philippines’ pre-Spanish writing system. From being an ancient script mentioned only in passing in classes in Philippine History, alibata has gained enough popularity to inspire the creation of hundreds of web sites dedicated to it.
To be able to get an idea of how the resurgence of alibata came about, it is important to first give the origins and history of the language a good close look.
As was mentioned earlier, alibata, or baybayin, is a pre-colonization form of writing that was used by the people living in the area that would later come to be known as the Philippines. According to Spanish accounts, the script was used by many of the ethno-linguistic groups in the region (with certain variations, of course), including the Tagalogs, Mangyans and those in the Visayan islands.
Usage of the script began to decline in the 17th century however, mainly because of the introduction of the Spanish language (the official language of the government and the Church). Alibata could not accurately depict its sounds and the Castilian letters were also much easier to learn. By the 18th century, some Spanish accounts claim that reading and writing in alibata have already become rare.
The recent rise in popularity of the ancient script especially among the youth can be attributed to many different reasons, with the first one being the fact that more and more people are taking conscious efforts to promote it.
Raymond Cosare, a professor at the Far Eastern University for example, holds alibata writing lessons for kids at the Bahay Nakpil in Quiapo, Manila. The respected Neo-Angono Artists on the other hand, recently painted a mural that showed showed Andres Bonifacio with the alibata “K” tattooed on his arm. By sporting alibata tattoos, Filipino celebrities such as international wrestling star Batista, UFC champion Brandon Vera and Bamboo bassist Nathan Azarcon have also inadvertently promoted the writing system.
Another reason that could explain the new found popularity of alibata is that many Filipinos use it to reconnect to their roots. Having existed during the pre-Spanish times, the alibata gives modern Filipinos-a people who have been bombarded by foreign culture and values during the 400 years they were under foreign rulers-a sense of identity, an idea of who they are and where they came from.
Alibata has become popular because many Filipinos now see it as a source of pride. A developed system of writing is a sign of progress and civilization, so the existence of alibata is proof that the early Filipinos, unlike what many of the early colonizers have repeatedly espoused, had a rich developed culture and civilization. More than just an ordinary writing system, the alibata is a symbol of just how far the Filipinos have progressed and developed on their own. The ancient writing system, says Cosare in an interview, “makes Filipino people prouder of who they are”.