Ancient Philippine scripts

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The different indigenous writing systems of the Philippines, including the different forms of Baybayin.

Ancient Philippine scripts are systems of writing that developed and flourished in the Philippines in about 300 BC. These scripts are related to other Southeast Asian systems of writing that developed from South Indian Brahmi scripts used in Asoka Inscriptions and Pallava Grantha, a type of writing used in the writing of palm leaf books called Grantha script during the ascendancy of the Pallava dynasty about the 5th century.[1] Since the 21st century, these scripts have simply been collectively referred to as "suyat" by various Filipino cultural organizations.[2]

Introduction and development[edit]

Isaac Taylor sought to show that the system of writing, particularly the Baybayin script, was introduced into the Philippines from the Coast of Bengal sometime before the 8th century. In attempting to show such a relationship, Taylor presented graphic representations of Kistna and Assam letters like g, k, ng, t, m, h, and u, which resemble the same letters in Baybay.

Fletcher Gardner argued that the Philippine scripts have "very great similarity" with the Asoka alphabets. T. H. Pardo de Tavera supported Gardner's view, and he also wrote that "the ancient Filipino alphabets have resemblance with the characters of the Asokan inscriptions." David Diringer, accepting the view that the alphabets of the Indonesian archipelago have their origins from India, opined that these, particularly that which is used in the Ci-Aruton inscriptions of the West Javan rajah, King Purnavarman, constituted the earliest types of Philippine syllabic writing. These according to Diringer were brought to the Islands through the Buginese characters in Celebes.[3] The script would fall within the middle of the 5th century.

"The Dravidian influence on the ancient Filipino scripts was obviously of Tamil origin," wrote V. A. Makarenko, in proposing another view on the origin of Philippine scripts. Based primarily on the work of H. Otley Beyer, this theory argues that these scripts reached the Philippines via the last of the "six waves of migration that passed through the Philippine archipelago from the Asian continent about 200 BC," constituting the Malayans and Dravidians, "primarily the Tamil from Malaya and the adjacent territories and from Indonesia and South India as well."

Extinction and disappearance[edit]

The use of the Baybayin was widespread during the 15th century. By the end of 17th century, its use was almost non-existent. By the 18th century, it was extinct. The inability of the ancient script to record the new sounds introduced by the Spaniards, the rapid acquisition of literacy in the Latin script with its concomitant social and material benefits, and the disruption of traditional family activities were the main culprits for the loss of the Tagalog script.[4] Buhid, Hanunóo, and Tagbanwa are the only surviving Philippine scripts, however its use are confined to writing poems and other literary pursuits among its native speakers.[5] Computer fonts for these three living scripts are available for IBM and Macintosh platforms, and come into two styles based on actual historical and stylistic samples. PostScript and TrueType fonts as well a concise manual that gives a background of these ancient scripts and a short tutorial on how to write with them are included in each package.[6]

The University of Santo Tomas Archives in Manila is one of the largest archives in the Philippines, and currently possesses the most extant collections of ancient baybayin scripts in the world.[7][8][9]


The most interesting paleographic peculiar characteristic of ancient Philippine scripts is its being traditionally written from bottom to top, with the succeeding lines following on the right. However, when the Spaniards attempted to use the script in their desire to spread Roman Catholicism, like printing the Doctrina Cristiana in the Tagalog language and script, the direction of writing was changed and consequently the axis of the symbols also changed. These changes may be described in brief: "the direction of writing proceeded from left to right, with the succeeding lines written below the previous line; while the axis of the symbols was rotated to a ninety degree position, in which the symbols for i and u in composition with any consonant became above and below, respectively. In the traditional position, the i and u were on the right and left, respectively, of the consonant with which they are composed."

In general, there are two observable features of the ancient Philippine scripts. These include the curvi-linear character and the lineo-angular trait

Ancient Philippine Scripts (Suyat)
Script Region Sample
Badlit Visayas
Basahan Bicol Region
Baybayin Tagalog region BaybayinSample.svg
Buhid Mindoro Buhid script sample.svg
Eskayan Bohol Eskayascript.gif
Hanunó'o Mindoro Hanunoo script sample.svg
Jawi and Kirim[10][11] Sulu and Maguindanao, respectively[10][11]
Kulitan Central Luzon Kulitan script.gif
Kur-itan Ilocos
Palaw'an Palawan
Tagbanwa script Central and Northern Palawan Tagbanwa script sample.svg

The scripts found in the Samar-Leyte area as reported by Alzina straddle the two categories-they show both lineo-angular and curvi-linear features.

Writing technique[edit]

The early Filipinos wrote on many different materials; leaves, palm fronds, tree bark and fruit rinds, but the most common material was bamboo. The writing tools or panulat were the points of daggers or small pieces of iron.[12] Once the letters were carved into the bamboo, it was wiped with ash to make the characters stand out more. Sharpened splits of bamboo were used with colored plant saps to write on more delicate materials such as leaves.[12]

Much earlier writing techniques were also devised by early Filipinos, dating 900 AD.[13] The Philippine copperplate was inscribed by hammering the letters onto the metal using a sharp instrument. The letters show closely joined and overlapping dots from the hammering.[13]

National Writing System[edit]

The "National Script Act" has been in Congress since 2011. The bill aims to revive the usage of all known indigenous scripts in the Philippines. The bill also mandates that each community should teach the script respective to the area's ethnic peoples.[14]

See also[edit]

South Indian and related scripts


  1. ^ Philippine Centrum Communication Foundation Archived October 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed September 03, 2008.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Tripod: Philippine scripts. Accessed September 03, 2008.
  4. ^ Extinction of a Philippine script Archived September 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  5. ^ Living Philippine scripts Archived September 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  6. ^ Computer fonts of surviving ancient scripts Archived September 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 4 September 2008.
  7. ^ University of Santo Tomas Archives Archived 2013-05-24 at the Wayback Machine University of Santo Tomas Website accessed 17 June 2012
  8. ^ UST collection of ancient scripts in ‘baybayin’ syllabary shown to public accessed 17 June 012
  9. ^ UST Baybayin collection shown to public[permanent dead link] accessed 18 June 2012
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-08. Retrieved 2008-09-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). Accessed September 04, 2008.
  13. ^ a b The Languna Copperplate Inscription Archived 2014-11-21 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  14. ^

External links[edit]