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Learning Baybayin in Germany

By DOM GALEON

It is, perhaps, most fitting to end a month-long celebration of everything and anything Filipino with a lesson on Baybayin. That’s what the Philippine Embassy in Germany decided to do when it hosted a virtual Baybayin learning party as its culminating event for its National Heritage Month celebrations this year. 

The word baybayin in itself could connote a journey, perhaps to the future but with a keen understanding of the past. But Baybayin is also how we now call this indigenous alphasyllabary—a long word that really just means an alphabet built on consonant-vowel sequences—that was widely used in parts of the Philippines, particularly in Luzon, during the 16th and 17th centuries. I first learned about it in high school, and back then, it was taught to us as Alibata. But, Alibata is a misnomer, as Nityalila Saulo told the participants of that virtual learning party on May 30. 

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From left to right: Participants learn how to write in Baybayin.. Samples of Tofu Creatives’ Baybayin name art (Images courtesy of Tofu Creatives)

Nitya, as she is called by friends and colleagues, is a Filipino artist-musician currently based in San Diego, California. A design firm she co-founded, called Tofu Creatives, was tapped by Philippine Ambassador to Berlin, Tess Dizon De Vega, to host the virtual Baybayin classes for the Filipino community in Germany and in other parts of Europe. The embassy partnered with Tofu Creatives and the University of the Philippines Alumni Association Germany, headed by Jennifer Lynne Fadrigo-Hankammer. 

“Although we made use of some technology, it felt like an organic, engaging activity and not just working with the usual language app,” says Amb. Tess, adding that that virtual Baybayin party had 46 participants from Germany, other European countries, and the US. 

Tofu Creatives, Nitya explains, holds these online Baybayin sessions as part of the development topics it specializes in. She usually facilitates these classes with the help of illustrator Desiree Llanos Dee

“In 2010, a friend wrote my name in Baybayin. At that time, I didn’t pay attention to it so much,” says Nitya. “Since moving to San Diego, California in 2016, I found myself creating art again, particularly black and white line drawings. This art allowed me to create calligraphic works of art and it reminded me of the lines and strokes of Baybayin. I began experimenting with Baybayin characters and started incorporating it with my line art. Realizing my deep connection with Baybayin, I wanted to learn more.”

This chance came in 2019 during a visit to the Philippines. “I had the opportunity to attend a two-day teacher’s training on Baybayin with GINHAWA Org,” Nitya says. “It gave me a renewed sense of appreciation of our identities as Filipinos, and I wanted to share it with fellow Filipinos.” 

She was able to share this enthusiasm with the 46 participants of that May 30 sessions, each of whom were able to write a two-sentence paragraph at the end of the 90 minute virtual party. “During the class, I saw the spark in their eyes when they realize the energies behind the words that they’ve been using all their lives, and to understand it better now gives them a deeper appreciation of the language and their heritage,” Nitya explains. “We were also happy about the inclusivity of the class because there was a participant who is deaf, and someone was translating in sign language for him. He was able to accomplish all the exercises in the class.”

This wasn’t, however, the first online activity the embassy in Germany had conducted. Anticipating how the then-rising number of Covid-19 cases would affect their activities, Amb. Tess started exploring other options. She and her team came up with BAHAYnihan early in March, an online series designed to help the Filipino community in Germany. 

“We embraced the challenge of sustaining community involvement through online platforms,” Amb. Tess says. “Given the restrictions on travel, I have been doing regular Facebook updates with the Filipino-German Community. It has not been that difficult as we have long recognized the power of online engagement but we have had to adjust content, form, and time management to keep our presence felt.”

These BAHAYnihan sessions have included a film showing of I’m Drunk, I Love You (courtesy of TBA Studios), a documentary on Baybayin, a news segment on the Filipino people’s Austronesian heritage, and Carlo Vergara’s musical Kung Paano ako naging Leading Lady (courtesy of the Cultural Center of the Philippines). 

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Participants show the Baybayin characters that they wrote during the class

“We had an initial program for Philippine National Heritage Month, which drew from online sources such as the [National Commission for Culture and the Arts], the Philippine Independent Film Industry, and the CCP but we wanted to do something more interactive,” says Amb. Tess. “It actually came together very quickly in a matter of days  after an initial Zoom meeting the project was off and running.”

Both she and Nitya noticed how enthusiastically the participants gobbled up the lessons, paying attention to every line and stroke of each of the consonant-vowel combo letters of Baybayin. In the end, both believe that, Baybayin is not just an old alphabet from a bygone period in our pre-colonial history.

“There’s a lot of ancient knowledge in it that we don’t realize anymore, and I wanted to show others this side of our language—the stories behind it and what it reveals about us,” Nitya says.

“Being in another country can make us reflect on our own identity. Since moving to California, it made me hold on to my roots even more. Teaching Baybayin made me reaffirm my roots and I hope to help other Filipinos rediscover themselves and understand their culture through the art and power of Baybayin.” 

www.nityalila.com/baybayin | www.tofucreatives.com


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/05/learning-baybayin-in-germany/)

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