Syllabic writings from Pala’wan/Tagbanua/Hanunuo/Buhid

Writing is an ancient form of communication in the Philippines. Reading and writing had spread through the archipelago via the complex network of trade routes. Early Filipinos wrote on bamboo segments, tree barks and palm leaves with pointed knives, sticks and charcoal in the place of modern day paper and pen. Traditionally, writing was used for the expression of poetry and personal letters.

Generally, there are 17 symbols in the Philippine syllabary or which 14 represent consonant and 3 represent vowels. The consonants are ba, ka, da, ha, la, ma, na, nga, pa, sa, ta, wa and ya. The addition of ra in some groups is recent adaptation. A diacritical mark above the consonant represents the “i/e” sound, while a diacritical mark below represents the “o/u.” Of the various writing systems derivative of the baybayin, only four ethnolinguistic groups have retained the use of the ancient syllabic scripts; the Hanunoo and Buhid of Mangyan in Mindoro and the Tagbanua and Pala’wan of Palawan. However, they are on the verge of losing their own writing because of cultural and environmental pressures, therefore steps have been taken to prevent their extinction. Antoon Postma, a former SVD missionary Dutch and later married one of the local Mangyan, worked to revive the Hanunoo script and established a school for this purpose. The National Museum has also started a project that aims to revive the use of the Buhid, Tagbanua and Pala’wan system of writing.

This page was last modified Monday, February 10, 2014
National Museum of the Philippines
Padre Burgos Drive, City of Manila, Philippines