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A History of the Philippines by David P. Barrows

Use a similar syllabary to this day


co mo

The final consonants are supplied or understood in all cases, and so to say 'cantar,' they write

ca ta

barba,

ba ba

But with all, and that without many evasions, they make themselves understood, and they themselves understand marvellously. And the reader supplies, with much skill and ease, the consonants that are lacking. They have learned from us to write running the lines from the left hand to the right, but formerly they only wrote from above downwards, placing the first line (if I remember rightly) at the left hand, and continuing with the others to the right, the opposite of the Chinese and Japanese.... They write upon canes or on leaves of a palm, using for a pen a point of iron. Nowadays in writing not only their own but also our letters, they use a feather very well cut, and paper like ourselves.

They have learned our language and pronunciation, and write as well as we do, and even better; for they are so bright that they learn everything with the greatest ease. I have brought with me handwriting with very good and correct lettering. In Tigbauan, I had in school a very small child, who in three months' time learned, by copying from well-written letters that

I set him, to write enough better than I, and transcribed for me writings of importance very faithfully, and without errors or mistakes. But enough of languages and letters; now let us return to our occupation with human souls." [9]

Sanskrit Source of the Filipino Alphabet.--Besides the Tagalog, the Bisaya, Pampango, Pangasinan, and Ilocano had alphabets, or more properly syllabaries similar to this one. Dr. Pardo de Tavera has gathered many data concerning them, and shows that they were undoubtedly received by the Filipinos from a Sanskrit source.

Early Filipino Writings.--The Filipinos used this writing for setting down their poems and songs, which were their only literature. None of this, however, has come down to us, and the Filipinos soon adopted the Spanish alphabet, forming the syllables necessary to write their language from these letters. As all these have phonetic values, it is still very easy for a Filipino to learn to pronounce and so read his own tongue. These old characters lingered for a couple of centuries, in certain places. Padre Totanes [10] tells us that it was rare in 1705 to find a person who could use them; but the Tagbanua, a pagan people on the island of Paragua, use a similar syllabary to this day. Besides poems, they had songs which they sang as they rowed their canoes, as they pounded the rice from its husk, and as they gathered for feast or entertainment; and especially there were songs for the dead. In these songs, says Chirino, they recounted the deeds of their ancestors or of their deities.

Chinese in the Philippines.--Early Trade.--Very different from the Hindu was the early influence of the Chinese. There is no evidence that, previous to the Spanish conquest, the Chinese settled or colonized in these islands at all; and yet three hundred years before the arrival of Magellan their trading-fleets were coming here regularly and several of the islands were well known to them. One evidence of this prehistoric trade is in the ancient Chinese jars and pottery which have been exhumed in the vicinity of Manila, but the Chinese writings themselves furnish us even better proof. About the beginning of the thirteenth century, though not earlier than 1205, a Chinese author named Chao Ju-kua wrote a work upon the maritime commerce of the Chinese people. One chapter of his work is devoted to the Philippines, which he calls the country of Mayi. [11] According to this record it is indicated that the Chinese were familiar with the islands of the archipelago seven hundred years ago. [12]


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