333 years of Spanish colonization. 40-odd years of American occupation, not to mention three years of Japanese imperialism. All these periods of suppression could not just wipe out an entire culture altogether. Here I am, struggling to return to the native, finding the Filipino identity in me as is manifest in the precolonial system of writing. Using a pointed tool on a bamboo stick and in the midst of ornaments reminiscent of the Filipinos in the pre-Hispanic era, I etched squiggly little symbols representing the ancient script named Baybayin by our native ancestors. It was alternatively called Alibata, although it was an Arabic misnomer since the term hardly explained the nativeness of the syllabary. From the script's seventeen basic symbols of a, i, u, ka, ga, nga, ta, da, na, pa, ba, ma, ya, la, wa, sa, and ha, I chose with care the ones corresponding to the idea I want to immortalize in the bamboo. Yes, I understand that the material will easily wilt away in a tropical region such as ours, but all the same, I like to create some form of history apart from the more enduring (by Philippine standards) oral tradition. As I sweated in pushing the knife-like medium into the uncomplaining bamboo, I remember the ancestors before they were ultimately colonized by the white men. They traded folklore with one another with the benefit of their fertile imagination and industrious tongue. Orature was their one binding quality despite the seas separating the islands they inhabited. They were already conceived as a nation by virtue of this oneness in proclaiming their people's history. Then, in order to keep another record of their civilization, they invented their system of syllabary and began inscribing them in rocks, barks of trees, leaves. The unforgiving hot climate ruined their records soon enough, but they were undaunted. They were writing their history. I imagine them did so as I myself partake of the history in the making through writing in their original script. Hours into my struggle to etch an idea onto the bamboo's outer surface, I remember that a little symbol named kudlit changes the seventeen symbols: a kudlit put above the symbol modifies the “a” to an “i” or “e” sound, such that “pa” becomes “pi” or “pe.” Meanwhile, a kudlit put below the symbol modifies the “a” to a “u” or “o” sound, such that “pa” reads “pu” or “po.” My own idea contains syllables sounding in “i” and “o;” I took care to etch into the bamboo with the modification in mind. I look at myself and found oneness with the ancestors: I am articulating an idea in an unadulterated symbolic system of writing. But then, the ancestors became bamboos themselves pierced by the sharp points of colonization. As I neared the completion of my writing, I remember the ancestors being violated by the colonizers' uprooting of the native institutions to change with foreign ones. The Spaniards tampered with our writing system by introducing a symbol reminiscent of the thing on which Christ was crucified and on which we were historically subjected: a cross-kudlit that upon placement below any of the consonant-using symbol, the “a” sound is dropped, leaving the consonant all on its own. Could this tampering be the reason for the widespread demise of the syllabary way into the 18th century? I can only be sure that the very symbols I am using now to write this paper, symbols so much different from the ones I use to write on the bamboo, hastened the baybayin's demise with the replacement of the alphabet. With this contemplation of the death of the baybayin, I managed to finish my bamboo carving. Despite exhaustion, I felt my chest heave with pride as I orally interpreted the writing: “Ako ay Pilipino!” As I carve my way into history by learning the traditional form of native writing, I feel that the centuries of oppression are being dismantled in my being. I feel the tides of my own history rushing, forceful and inevitable, ready to take its place again after almost half a millenium of dislocation. Pilipino ako, malaya!
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