In recent years there has been a revival of various kinds in the popularity of the alibata, the pre-Spanish writing system of the Philippines. From being an ancient script mentioned only in passing classes in Philippine History, alibata has become very popular for inspiring the creation of hundreds of websites dedicated to it.
In order to get an idea of how the alibata revival took place, it is important to first give a good overview of the origins and history of the language.
As already mentioned, alibata, or baybayin, is a type of pre-colonial writing used by the people living in the area later known as the Philippines. According to Spanish accounts, the script was used by many ethnic groups in the region (with certain variations, of course), including Filipino, Mangyans and those on the Visayan islands.
The decline in the use of the script began in the 17th century, however, mainly due to the introduction of Spanish (the official language of government and the Church). Alibata could not accurately express his sounds and it was also much easier to learn the Castilian letters. By the 18th century, several accounts in Spain claim that reading and writing in alibata were already uncommon.
The recent rise in popularity of the ancient script especially among the youth can be attributed to many different reasons, the first of which is that more and more people are making conscious efforts to promote it.
Raymond Cosare, a professor at the University of the Far East for example, runs alibata writing lessons for children at the Bahay Nakpil in Quiapo, Manila. Conversely, the esteemed Neo-Angono Artists recently painted a mural depicted by Andres Bonifacio with the tattoo alibata “K” on his arm. Through sports alibata tattoos, Filipino celebrities such as international competition star Batista, UFC champion Brandon Vera and Bamboo bassist Nathan Azarcon have accidentally promoted the writing system.
Another reason that may explain the new popularity of alibata is that many Filipinos use it to reconnect with their roots. Having existed during the pre-Spanish period, the modern Filipinos alibata – people who were attacked by foreign culture and values during the 400 years they were under foreign rulers – give a sense of identity, an idea of who themselves and where they came from.
Alibata is very popular because many Filipinos now see it as a matter of pride. A system of writing development is a sign of progress and civilization, so the existence of an alibata is proof that the early Filipinos had a richly developed culture and civilization, unlike many of the early colonists who repeatedly mentioned it. More than just a conventional writing system, the alibata is a symbol of how far the Filipinos have progressed and developed on their own. Because of the ancient writing system, Cosare says in an interview, “Filipinos make people wiser who they are”.