Behind a Nation: Akbay, Bayan, Anak

2003 was the last time I visited the Philippines. I still speak Tagalog, kumupas na (faded), but still speaking.  A lot of people often say it was because we spoke it at home. But I can tell you right now, we spoke a lot of English. My siblings and I know that it is felt when we speak Tagalog: our link to home.

When my family speaks to each other, we all dissect the degree of ‘fading’ our Tagalog has undergone. These days, we don’t criticize each other verbally, but we still do it mentally. Tacit knowing, because it is not to pick each other apart that we do it. It is to keep the link alive…remembering the provincial accent of Bulacan, our unique familial tone and linguistic prosody, and the laughter always associated with remembering.

I remember the last time I was back, my cousin put his arms upon my shoulders as we walked down the street. I felt a certain discomfort, because the ‘personal space’ issue the Western world had conditioned in me told me that two males walking down the street, shoulder to shoulder, was out of code. Nonetheless, I put my right arm around his nape, onto his right shoulder, and we walked…

If there is something I most lack is academic credentials. It is not, however, a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ scenario. But intuition, I’ve learned, refined through the kapwa, has given me freedom to stand as some authority on what I say. Because when something is this compelling, you must leave yourself open to anything, like the kinship act of akbay, with just one arm over brother’s shoulders, center openly vulnerable, legs walking forward to the rhythm of another set of steps.

I often use site Baybayin Alive as reference to things. In the following analyses, I use the same ‘framework’, or paradigm, to explore and process the deeper meanings of our native writing system, Baybayin. Thank you Baybayin Alive for your contribution. It has given me an opportunity to explore and trust my own intuition as a guiding source.

The practice of akbay can be described as a gesture of close friendship. You’ll see little boys, shoulder to shoulder, walking down the street, expressing their closeness. As one gets older, one gets conditioned to the Western ideals of individualism and a concept of masculinity via personal space. However, you’ll still see this practice among adults in provincial areas of the Philippines, as well as many Southeast Asian countries. The Baybayin symbols that make up akbay are “A”, “KA”, “BA”, and a silent “YA” when written in Baybayin (the “y” is pronounced verbally). It is up to the reader to discern the word based on the context.

The “A” can be interpreted as made up of half “KA”, with a continuing body, ‘ending’ with a hook, or in medical terms, a neurotransmitter, looking for a receptor. The way “A” is pronounced indicates an openness, open mouth, tongue in rest, and a steady, pushing breath. The Baybayin Oracle Cards (created by Rhodora “Bing” Veloso) interprets that is the “spirit” shaped by Divine wisdom.

Baybayin Alive describes “Ka” in this way:

KA is two wavy lines laid parellel with a line joining the two of them at their center. KA means “connection.”

The two wavy lines are also the same size, indicating equal status.
In the Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication, this stage of “contact” would take place in the “channel” stage, after encoding has taken place, and before decoding takes place.

“BA” is a symbol of the feminine principle, which is also the root of many expressions (Raymund Cosare). Baybayin Alive also makes parallels of “BA” to the Alphabet Gematria symbol, “B”. It signifies “fertility”, “new beginnings”, or “birth”. The shape of “BA” is likened to a circle, starting from a point, descending, ascending into a loop, descending down, and ascending once again to meet at the point. It would indicate that after “contact”, there is a reproducing that takes place, or the result of understanding. In essence, the symbol indicates a certain completion, or coming full circle.

“YA” is far from a forgotten part of the word. Interestingly, “A” and “YA” are written similarly. Exempt from the “YA” is an extra ‘stroke’, which to me, indicates a particular function or purpose. The act of akbay begins with an openness to express a closeness with someone else. It ends with the cradling of the tongue, after “Ba”, to a soft “Y’, an invitation to trust, a soft place to be unconditionally loved. The person “Yaya” comes to mind, a hired help who becomes a nursemaid, who becomes, an extension of parental nurturing, trust bestowed upon her to care for the young children while the mother and father are working.

*Though the symbol “Ya” is not included in the spelling of “akbay” in baybayin, the oral aspect of the word sheds light on the non-visual implications “akbay” has on practice. This helps us to appreciate the cyclical paradigm of the indigenous Filipin@, that one aspect of life is only understood through another aspect. The framework for deciphering the writing system of Baybayin cannot thrive only through a linear understanding of its written progressions. Social practices and oral traditions passed down are also essential puzzle pieces.

After "A" takes place, from "Ka", "Ba", "Ya", to "Na", a self-sufficient cycle of "offspring" (Anak) and "nation" (Bayan) takes place. In each symbol of the cycle, "A" is always referenced.

Last, and certainly not least, we come to “Na”. Baybayin Alive posted that it  “ is the symbol to indicate ‘now‘ or ‘being present.’ The downward line represents the present moment in a progression of time” Please read the post on the Filipino expression/attitude of “Bahala Na“. The Baybayin Oracle Cards interprets the symbol “Na” as “a woman’s vagina, a closed door, an opening to a cave”. The reading continues to describe this symbol as ‘something new and mysterious’, and to “take great care if you wish to take on its challenge”.

When “Na” is pronounced, it begins tight mouthed, tongue pushing the roof of the mouth, and pushes through to an open mouth, open breath of “ah”. The story of “anak” comes to mind, with “Na” as the birthing process, a mysterious challenge needing great care. When a mother finally gets to hold her newborn in her arms, “Ka”, the connection takes place, a sacred decoding of feeling, seeing, smelling a new relationship.

With the context of the interpretations, each word paints a story, a labyrinth of meaning, a satisfying foundation for our unique heritage, even in the age of modernization. Baybayin now allows us to tell the progressive story behind nation-building, that it is signified from an act of close and nurturing kinship, to a nation, and from that nation, offspring that carries on the very attitude of openness and a “kapwa” paradigm, that there is no ‘other’, only a single stream with many connections. And this cycle continues: akbayanakbayanak…it is a cyclical framework. The story of the collectivistic socialization of Filipinos can be told through the secrets of Baybayin.

3 comments

  1. perla

    Hi Jay, I finally posted this as a guest feature at baybayinalive.com! Many thanks for sharing your own insights. I hope it inspires others and stirs something within their own loob. Mabuhay-LifeLightLove, Manang Perl

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