Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alibata - Breaking it Down, Flaring it Out

Alibata, the ancient writing system of the Philippines, has become quite the subject of study and experimentation in recent years. The Alibata system utilizes glyph characters which are derrived from specific parts of the language. One particular example is the word for "god", or "Bathala" (the supreme being, all that is I, etc) in Tagalog.

Bathala may be represented in two phonetic forms:


Although today, "bahala" has become commonplace in the modern Pilipino language in such coliquial phrases as "bahala na", literally meaning "god to you", or in a more connotative sense, "god watch over you" in times of preoccupation.

Now for a more in depth look, as examined by Perla Ramos Paredes Daly in her essay, "Bathala Mediations":


In the shape of ba are the organic feminine forms---breasts, buttocks, vagina, or uterus... and thus the energy/spirit/diwa of the feminine principal, which in Filipino can be expressed as Maganda. Feminine principle qualities/energies are, to name only some, nurturing, sensuality, beauty, spirituality, fertility, compassion, receptiveness and submission to Divine will.


In the shape of la is the organic form of the male sexual organs, that is, the testicles and the penis. "La" conveys the energy/spirit/diwa of the masculine principal, which in Filipino can be expressed as Malakas... Masculine principle qualities/energies are, to name only some, action, dynamism, force, strength, fertilization, challenge, aggression, domination, challenging.


In the curves of the ha baybayin symbol there is the principle and meaning of: air... breath... spirit... and light. You might be able to see what I see in the baybayin of "ha" ---similarities to scientific graphic renderings of light waves... ... you can also definitely see and feel in the shape of "ha" forms of wind and air... Equipped with this new knowledge from unlocking the secrets of baybayin and the meanings in BAHALA, I came to an awareness that for the early Filipinos, Bahala encompassed both Feminine and Masculine energies of the Universe. It was conveyed by the feminine and masculine baybayin symbols and sounds in it---"ba" and "la" --- and most importantly connected in the middle with the "ha" sound symbol.

-Daly, Bahala Mediation pg.3-4

With such meaning behind each character, it's form is analogous to that of the early Chinese glyphs which often visually resembled the words they expressed.

In my take of Alibata, inspired by my experiences with calligraphy, graffiti, and hand style, I'm trying to proliferate into a word art of the writing system. For Christmas, I made a few of my friends some hats, with their name phonetically translated into Alibata, stylized through my vision of what it could be. This would prove as a sample test to experiment on my ideas and to see what I can accomplish...

For my friend Nasser:
"Nasser" is actually four characters long, but for the sake of simplicity and "real-estate" on the hat, I decided to use just his nick name, "Nas." The phonetic translation of this is:

Na S

As with graffiti, what makes a writer's name stand out is their style. Stylizing your letters shows much about one's character and influences. Los Angeles writers typically have sharp letter styles, East Coast have more bubbly-letters, and Philadelphia writers are prone to wild styles. Most artists that use Alibata typically keep the glyphs in their traditional form to ensure that the writing system is being utilized.

However, if the writing system is already a "dead script", then why bother being so formal about the characters? Why not heavily stylize them? It's already being done to some extent with calligraphy and jewelry, but still... it could keep growing.

As seen in this picture of my sketch book is my take on the "NaS" characters that would later go on the hat. On the top right you could see the traditional letter style, then my handstyled version.

After some primer and paint and mess ups and frustration and beers and procrastination and inspiration came out the end result:

If you're new to graffiti, understand that the bubble-background is nothing new hahaha...

In any event, I like how it came out; though it's much more clear on paper and the lines are much more defined, it still came out decently. Also, the glyphs take a very light-hearted look, with bright colors that I felt would reflect a cool yet fun mood. The hat is a stretch-fit cap of cotton, the front has been sprayed by white primer. Decco paint markers were used to color the design. Tip: Don't use the metal fine-tip Decco's; they'll clog up as soon as they touch primered fabric.

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1 comment:

perla said...

thanks for sharing on bahala baybayin and their spiritual meanings, kapatid. the bahala meditations were originally posted at and some generous soul out on planet earth posted it also at

urduja, who you have linked to is my babaylan sister. you might want to check out these links if they speak to you, too:

there was a kapwa conference in iloilo recently. did you go? some of my friends went. i hope to go to one someday.