A Philippine Leaf Banner
The pages of a book are called leaves and small sheets with writing are called leaflets because more than a millennium ago, documents were written on leaves. In southern India and Southeast Asia, they were written on palm leaves. A document was called pattra, which is Sanskrit for leaf. Several leaves were strung and bound together to form a book.

And so, this web page is a leaf, a pattra, a dahon. It is my opening page to our Philippine past, ang aking dahong pambukás ng ating nakaraán.

Hello, my name is Hector Santos, I am a former aerospace computer systems engineer (no, I didn't work on weapons of mass destruction) who, like many others, was forced to change his lifestyle in 1992 when the cold war ended.

Since then, I have survived by accepting occasional computer-related work assignments. More importantly, I have found the freedom to do things for which I never had time before.

That has allowed me to spend a few years doing independent research on ancient Filipino writing systems and the way Tagalog was spoken before the advent of the Spaniards. My studies have revealed to me things I never knew and corrected some wrong impressions that I had.

I would like to share with you some of what I have learned about ancient Philippines-- the way she was before the West found her.

Our ancestors wrote messages on palm leaves and on bamboo slats. They left them on mountain trails for a passerby to deliver to the addressee in another town in case he was going that way. Now we write on computer screens and send messages around the world at the speed of light.

But it seems we know less today about our planet Earth than our ancestors did during the days of the leaves.

The Way We Were

Start here for a trip back to ancient Philippines. When you return, you might just feel prouder that you are Filipino.

  • Laguna Copperplate Inscription. This document from 900 A.D. threatens to upset our long-held theories of Philippine history. It records the forgiveness of a debt incurred by a person named Namwaran and mentions placenames that still exist today, eleven centuries later.
  • Literacy in Pre-Hispanic Philippines. When Miguel de Legazpi came to Manila, he found that almost everybody could read and write. This prompted the friars to publish a book in the native script in 1593, forty-seven years before the first book was published in the United States. However, within a century of the Spaniards' arrival, literacy in the Tagalog script that they came upon was gone. It was not until the end of Spanish reign that it became known that remote mountain groups had maintained their literacy in scripts similar to the Tagalog script. They are still in use today.
  • Mystery Scripts of the Philippines. A few writing samples found in the Philippines are mysterious and undeciphered. What could they mean and are they for real? A secret society on the island of Bohol uses a strange script. Where did it come from and why is its structure very different from other Philippine scripts and, for that matter, other Southeast Asian scripts as well?
Check out these other history sites that I recommend.


Sushi Dog
Please send me your comments. I would love to hear from you.
Hector Santos <hectorsan@bibingka.com> Los Angeles
Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 1999