A Philippine Leaf
Kaming Manga Buhid Mangyan

Our Living Scripts

by Hector Santos
© 1995-96 by Hector Santos
All rights reserved.

Although the Tagalog script quickly faded from the Philippine scene after the Spaniards arrived, three related scripts survived. They are the scripts of the Hanunóos and Buhids of Mindoro and the Tagbanwas of Palawan.

Three surviving scripts

These three cultural groups originally lived on coastal shores along the ancient trade and migration route between Borneo and Manila on the western flanks of Mindoro and Palawan. They were incessantly forced to move inland by raiders until they occupied only the highlands of their respective islands. By fleeing and refusing to give up their way of life, they were able to preserve their knowledge of the ancient scripts.

Not much was known about them until recently. Knowledge that they had writing systems only came about at the end of the 19th century.

Their scripts' similarity to the Tagalog script was not only in the shapes of their symbols. They had the same kudlits, had the same orthographic rule about dropping the final consonant in a CVC syllable, and had the same uses for their scripts: writing poetry and personal communication. These facts reinforce and verify earlier accounts of friar-historians regarding features of the Tagalog script.

Before we proceed further, let us enjoy some actual literature from these people some lowlanders consider "primitive." I especially enjoy poems from the Mangyans: urukay from the Buhids and ambahan from the Hanunóos. Their imagery is quite contemporary and the ambahan spoken by a stillborn child reminds me of the poems of Robert Herrick.

Buhid urukays from
The Mangyans of Mindoro by Violeta B. Lopez.

Kahoy-kahoy kot malago
Kabuyong-buyong sing ulo
Kaduyan-duyan sing damgu,
Dalikaw sa pagromedyu
Singhanmu kag sa balay barku
Anay umabut ka nimu.

Like a tree overgrown with branches
My mind is full of turmoil
Though loaded with pain and grief
My dreams continually seek for an end,
Let it be known that I am on my way
Perchance you'll catch up with me.

Gusto ko lamang kag si Inambay sa dalan
Kag managun latay
Sa batang kag managaytay
Pag-uli kaw sa balay kita ga araway
Gaamigos kita anay

I want Inambay to stay only on the pathway
So we can roam freely in the woods
And when I reach home, you and I
Will not quarrel
And we could remain together

Hanunóo ambahans from
Treasure of a Minority by Antoon Postma

Magkunkuno ti anak lunas
Anong suyong muyuan
Anong bansay kayasan
Kang di way sa bilugan
Ako kanmo nga amban
Ako kan bansay huywan
Pagka ngap ak nirwasan
Pag idnas sa salsagan
Ud binabaw sa pupwan
Ud linilang sa duyan
Ti lumilang bay aban
Uyayi bansanayan
Sud-an sa bagunbunan
Ako inaghon diman
Tinakip dagaynaan
Dapat bay una kunman
Aba hulin lumbadan
Kanta nga aldaw masdan
Hinton di nguna aban
Girangon yi rug-usan
Ti may pa-oy linyawan
Kang hulin talisigan

Says the baby, lifeless born:
My beloved mother dear,
Father, oh, my father dear!
When I was resting in your womb,
Closely united with you,
I was my father's favorite.
Taken from my safe abode,
plac'd upon the bamboo floor,
no one put me on your lap,
no one rock'd me in a crib.
What became my crib at last,
was a hammock strongly built:
as a bed, a burial hill!
Discarded I was, unlov'd.
Cov'ring me was the cold earth
and the weeping sky above.
But although it be like this,
a happier day will come.
Maybe it'll be coming soon!
And what will be happ'ning then?
The old people weeping, sad,
in a dark'ning, mourning sky:
I will fin'lly leave behind!

Kawayan sa tumalo
Kawo no kang itudlo
Kawo balaw dumayo
Hurok nakaburino
Ga panabasan panyo

Bamboo bush along the stream;
If I could show it to you,
you would like the glossy gleam.
Beautiful the young shoots too,
like a headdress cut supreme!

Tagbanwan accounts from
Indic Writings of the Mindoro-Palawan Axis
by Fletcher Gardner and Ildefonso Maliwanag

Marriage Custom

Adatit magpangasawa sito amon magsorogidon. Imagkasawa na moganait bandi ama. Iirog mi na mangasawa ako na. Imangasawa ono ari pangasawaan mo nga duwan pulo may lima, mapanisan ni lana kaiyani. Adat namon.

The custom of marriage among us will be discussed. The man about to marry gives money, (tells) father, "I wish to marry now." If you marry, (give) whom you will marry twenty and five pesos, wipe on hands oil. That's our custom.


solsog / nagtasan / nagduwa / si ina / si ama / inao ko / amayan / apo ko / aka ko / ali ko / kamana ko / anak ko

sibling / cousin / second cousin / the mother / the father / my aunt / uncle / my grandchild / my older sibling / my younger sibling / my relative / my child

There may have been a time long ago when these people were culturally close to the Tagalogs. Isolation and different influences could have made the Tagalogs, Buhids, Hanunóos, and Tagbanwas develop along divergent cultural paths.

There is new evidence (the Laguna Copperplate Inscription) that ancient Philippines may have been more politically united than was the case when the Spaniards came, that linked settlements rather than independent barangays were the norm, and that material culture was at a higher level than at the time of contact with the West. But like Mycenaean Greece which degenerated into independent city-states, some unknown event caused the breakup of the older Philippine civilization into independent barangays. Greece eventually bounced back and reinvented most of her material culture, developing into the classical Greece that we know of. The Philippines was on its way to new levels of cultural development when Western civilization intervened.

Revival of the dead or conservation of the living?

Today, there are frequent calls for the revival of the Tagalog script as a symbol of national pride and identity. Unfortunately, the Tagalog script died a long time ago while the spoken language continued to evolve and they are very much out of step with each other today.

On the other hand, we have living scripts in the Philippines today that have been in continuous use for almost a millennium. The same people who call for the revival of the Tagalog script have not shown any interest in propagating and maintaining the living Philippine scripts used by our "second-class" citizens. These scripts are in danger of disappearing because of cultural contamination.

This is a sad but accurate commentary on the divisions within Philippine society today: lowlanders vs. highlanders, Christians vs. non-Christians, urban vs. taga-bundok, western vs. traditional, pants vs. bahags, blouses vs. bare breasts, and so on.

Could it be that the disappearance of the Tagalog script marked that point in history when the Filipinos' cultural will was finally broken? Are we now forever fragmented as a nation grasping for empty symbols when there are so many real things that we should be proud of?

More on Philippine Scripts

To cite:
Santos, Hector. "Our Living Scripts" in A Philippine Leaf at http://www.bibingka.com/dahon/living/living.htm. US, January 31, 1997.
Sushi Dog
Please send me your comments. I would love to hear from you.
Hector Santos <hectorsan@bibingka.com> Los Angeles
Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 1999