We have to go back to prehistoric times to know how our culture developed to appreciate our cultural heritage as a people and rekindle the Filipino diwa (spirit) to guide us along the pathways of the 21st century.
To understand that ancient Filipinos would indeed give their baybayin symbols meanings, we need to understand too, that ancient Filipinos were animists, thus they believed everything has a spirit, everything has a soul and thus, everything, even symbols, such as tattoo symbols or writing symbols would have meaning, even spiritual meaning.
Previously, I posted information about Lane Wilcken's recently published book "Filipino Tattoos, Ancient to Modern." Lane was raised with traditional spiritual beliefs of the Philippines passed on to him by his grandmother, a mangnigulut or midwife/healer, and great-great grandmother, a mangnganito (spirit medium). His parents style of teaching included metaphors and analogies. He grew up greatly interested in mythology, ancient legends and different cultural practices. He expanded his interest in symbolism by studying at the Southern Utah University and finishing BS Sociology with a focus on Symbolic Interactionism and a Minor in Communications. Lane has been researching the indigenous past of the Philippines and the Pacific Islands for nearly two decades, incorporating oral traditions, written history, linguistics, and personal experience. His ancestral ties to this work continue to motivate his research. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Book Description from Amazon
Tattooing is a very old and spiritually respected art form that has existed in many different cultures around the world. After many centuries of not being practiced in Europe, tattooing was re-introduced to the Western world through the inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean. Beginnning in the 16th century, European explorers came across many people who practiced tattooing as an integral part of their cultures.This is the first serious study of Filipino tattoos, and it considers early accounts from explorers and Spanish-speaking writers. The text presents Filipino cultural practices connected with ancestral and spiritual aspects of tattoo markings, and how they relate to the process and tools used to make the marks. In the Philippine Islands, tatoos were applied to men and women for many different reasons. It became a form of clothing. Certain designs recognized manhood and personal accomplishments as well as attractiveness, fertility, and continuity of the family or village. Facial tattoos occurred on the bravest warriors with names that denoted particular honor.Through the fascinating text and over 200 images, including color photographs and design drawings, the deep meanings and importance of these markings becomes apparent.
Some of the findings in Lane's book are about the meanings and spiritual significance of ancient tattoo symbols from the Philippines (and other Pacific Islands such as Hawaii and New Zealand(Maori)). The ancients of all nations gave symbols meanings and manytimes these meanings were deep and spiritual. To give all things meaning and a soul is the basis of animist spirituality. To believe that all things has a spirit is a source of respect and reverance for all of Life. This is also part of the indigenous mind and an indigenous worldview.
Antonio Ingles generously shared his notes on "Relationality in the Filipinos... bayanihan spirit lives on!" (Ingles is taking his PhD in Applied Cosmic Anthropology, is a professor at De La Salle-College, and is the founder/chairman of Aral Pinoy.)
The Filipino indigenous construct reflective of the relational character or the relationality in the Filipino character refers to these two (2) Filipino values: (1) pakikipagkapwa (the principle of Filipino relationality) and (2) kapwa (the core of the Filipino personhood). The bayanihan spirit embodies these Filipino principle and core reflective of the ancient Filipinos who had been sailing together as one balangay/barangay (boat). It is an accompaniment where ancient Filipinos come alongside in a cosmic journey, moving forward and together towards life and beyond.
...the ancient Filipinos are people sailing together as one balangay/barangay/bangka (boat), and that they accompany one another [in bayanihan spirit] in a cosmic (cosmos = vanua/bangka/balangay) journey of life and beyond (afterlife). Jocano (1998) insists that we have to go back to prehistoric times to know how our culture developed to appreciate our cultural heritage as a people and rekindle the Filipino diwa (spirit) [bayanihan spirit] to guide us along the pathways of the 21st century (p. 19). The writer borrows the words of Jose Rizal to remind us of the importance of prehistory to our nationhood: "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." [Free translation] "They who do not learn the lessons from the past cannot reach their intended destination" (as cited in Jocano, 1998, p. 22).
And what lessons were they? First, that today's relationality in the Filipino character is rooted in the prehistoric past, and second, it embodies the wisdom of our ancestors, thus the Filipinos' bayanihan spirit lives on.
Reading Ingles' notes led me to find and read Abrera's paper on The Soul Boat and the Boat-Soul: An Inquiry into the Indigenous “Soul”. Maria Bernadette L. Abrera, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of History at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines. In this paper are further discussion and findings about how ancient people in the Philippines gave meaning to objects, thought metaphorically(talinghaga) and had a reverance for all of life:
This paper will explore the indigenous world view in the Philippines and in particular, the concept of the soul in the animist context, as revealed in the pre-colonial rituals involving the use of the boats. These boats are commonly called by the general term bangka. The boat rituals as well as the boat terms are utilized to understand the belief system particularly in relation to beliefs about the soul and the afterlife.
Page 6In the section on The Indigenous “Soul” Agrebe writes more about giving objects spirit or a meaning:
Inferring from this, the boat then possesses its own soul, which is fundamentally related to the tree that had been used for its construction. The entire boat building process and construction rituals are rooted in the belief in the soul: offerings are made to the soul inhabiting the tree so that it would remain in the tree when the log is transformed into a boat. It is this soul of the boat that gives it its good qualities as a boat. We can get a glimpse of what these qualities are from a rowing song among the Ivatans of Batanes. Upon the start of a sea voyage, the boatmen address the boat, asking it to be steady of purpose, to be forceful, and to be alert in finding land with a beautiful bay (Scheerer 315-316). Similarly, Malays pray to the soul of a boat prior to a voyage and appeal that it keeps the planks together (Skeat 279).
Bagobos, an indigenous Philippine ethnic group in Mindanao, believe that all things possess a gimokud or soul, including man-made objects (Benedict 54, 65). Similarly, the Sama of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi believe that the sumangat or soul is found in all nature, even inanimate things (Casiño 113). This is believed to be the intrinsic spirit of an object that may be revealed at a particular time, according to Bottignolo and which gives the object its desirable characteristics as such (41). This is the reason why warriors, for example, show a reverential attitude toward their weapons; it is not simply the physical object of a metal weapon but a blade that possesses the soul of a blade. The soul of that object is what makes it hard and strong, whose strength would be revealed during battle. Thus, warriors give names to their personal weapons6 not as ownership of the object but in recognition of its animism. Forging the weapon then becomes not an ordinary, but a sacred, activity in order that the soul of the blade may not depart from it. As another example, there is also a ritual involving the “rice-soul”. The Mandaya pray to the “soul of the rice” before planting7 so that it would cause the plant to bear many grains.
This basic animist principle of plants and objects possessing “souls” enable us to understand oral literature better, beginning with the epics. The epic “Kudaman” of Palawan island’s Tagbanua people, for example, reveals that when Kudaman went down the house, the handrail shed tears of sorrow for the hero’s departure.8 This would show that they believe that the house possesses a life and therefore a soul, and can thus display its own emotions. In the epic of “Labaw Donggon” the hero’s boat is believed to be magical and charmed, as it possesses powers of its own and the hero can talk to it to do his bidding.9Filipinos' belief system in the soul was quite intricate:
Bagobos believe that both men and animals possess two souls, the bad soul on the left and the good on the right. Man-made objects have only one soul, such as the soul of a betel nut box, or the soul of a lime container. Among the Ifugao, this has been rendered in English as “soulstuff” (alimaduan) which is different from the soul (linawa). The alimaduan is that which gives the object its distinctive characteristic. For example, the alimaduan of the rice is to yield grain; of the pigs and chickens, to grow and multiply; of the person, to have desirable traits (Barton 141-142). However, a knife that bends lacks soulstuff, so does a tree that does not bear fruit.
The term for soulstuff, alimaduan, is based on dua (two) which is also the root for kaluluwa (soul). This would indicate the belief in another, or a second, presence within the material object. The concept of an alimaduan is the reason why there are rituals to render proper homage to important objects: a ritual in forging a metal weapon, in weaving clothing, in making a boat.
A very clear example of this is in the belief in the amulet or charm. Amulets are considered animate objects, going by the terms used to refer to these: amulets are “given food” to mean that they are prayed on, for if they lack “food” (prayers), they will “sulk” (magtatampo) and “leave” (maglalayas). What this boils down to is that if an amulet owner does not offer up sufficient prayers, he will lose the amulet. Through these terms, the concept is clarified that the amulet is not only animate, but possesses a “soul” from whence its power emanates. Based on the concept of the alimaduan, one may infer the presence of the soul in an object for so long as that object possesses the qualities that are proper to it. The Malays believe that human, animals, birds, plants, fishes, crocodiles, rocks, weapons, food, clothing, ornaments, and other objects have each their own autochthonous soul (Skeat 53).
By understanding the animist spirituality of the ancient people in the Philippines, we can come closer to understanding how the ancient people of the Philippines could believe that baybayin and the individual symbols within the ancient writing system in the Philippines, would have deeper meanings.
To give all things meaning and a soul is the basis of animist spirituality. To believe that all things has a spirit is a source of respect and reverance for all of Life. This is also part of the indigenous mind and worldview.
Abrera, M. B. (2007). The soul boat and the boat-soul: An inquiry into the indigenous “soul”. Retrieved December 4, 2010, from ResearchSEA Asia's first research news portal: http://www.researchsea.com/html/download.php/id/71/research/The%20Soul%20Boat%20and%20the%20Boat-Soul%20(English).pdf?PHPSESSID=5hffeltgedgr0frlkfvmk1f8r3