I started out my Baybayin journey back in 1994 whilst taking a class in Conversational Tagalog. The class was facilitated by Mr. Oscar Penaranda, poet, writer, teacher, activist, an all around inspiration to anyone who has had the honor of meeting.
During one of his classes, a Xerox copy of an article was passed out about the Pilipino Alphabet. It is worth noting that in this particular article, the terms Baybayin and alibata were never mentioned but rather the ancient Pilipino Alphabet and Tagalog scripts. The article was written by Mr. Benito O. De Lumen, who was/is an Assoc. Professor at UC Berkely. Unfortunately the copy of the article does not show any dates or publication.
Mr. De Lumen writes that upon researching for materials for a Pilipino School, he came across a copy of the famed “Doctrina Christiana” at UC Berkely, which is actually a reproduction of the original that now resides in the Library of Congress. He writes:
“Reading it gave me a rewarding feeling of being able to try and understand the Tagalog scripts and at least be able to write in them”.
Do you remember having that same experience the very first time? I sure as hell do, each and every time I write, whether on paper, napkins, wood, canvas, Muni, Bart…what these three yellowing, coffee stained and doodled pages have done to and for me.
My early years were full of growing pains, as this was pre Google, Yahoo, and Bing. What I had were these three pages and the San Francisco Public Library. Hours perusing books that often referred to the script but not a single top hit. So there I was in complete isolation teaching myself how to write Baybayin without anyone to refer to. This thing really got under my skin and was always itchy to write, anything and everything. I thought, man this can be huge in the community.
I had often observed that the community lacked cohesiveness when it came to celebrate Filipino identity. In general, folks often referred to themselves as Filipino + “whatevers” as if they were refining a Google search. It’s no wonder that other nationalities are confused about us. These observations and many more were the catalyst for my ongoing journey. So, with wood burning tool in hand and a few pieces of exotic wood, I began to experiment with my art.
Over the years I’ve met countless people because of my art. I’ve been challenged by some but mostly accepted by others. Baybayin is a top web search item, with a growing community of artisans. Technology allows all of us to connect with one another in a virtual “mixer” to share with one another and our voices. We all have a common theme and that is to educate people through each of our respective art forms, to help bring about a deeper sense of our Filipino identity.
In his article, Mr. De Lumen writes of a book titled “La Antigua Escritura Filipina” 1922, by Mr. Ignacio Villamor. He quotes an excerpt from Mr. Villamore:
“we consider it a great privilege to be able at this time to offer to the youth, landmarks of Ancient Filipino writing which have been for centuries obliterated from the minds of our forefathers, apparently lost in the hazy mists of the past, so that we may now have an idea of the degree of culture of the Filipinos three centuries ago”.
It is with great respect that I offer my thanks to: Mr. Oscar Penaranda, Mr. Benito O. De Lumen, Mr. Ignacio Villamor, Mr. Hector Santos, Mr. Bayani Mendoza De Leon, Mr. Joselito Sering, Roots artist/activist & KPFA Dj Kayumanggi Kaloy, Mr. Christian Cabuay of baybayin.com & pinoytattoos.com, Mr. Aleks Figueroa of Filipinotattoos.com & dreamjungletattoo.com, Mr. David Lazaro of The Bathala Project, Ms. Christine Balza of Suku Art, my KApatid Glenn Aquino and to those artists and practitioners I have yet to meet. I am in good company.