When the Spanish invaded the Philippines in 1565, they found that "the inhabitants, men and women alike, knew how to read and write and that they preserved their laws, stories, and proverbs on pieces of tree bark, bamboo, or palm leaves on which they incised characters that looked more or less like Greek or Arabic, by using a stylus." 1 After a century or so of Spanish settlement, the native system of writing had disappeared, as did the archives of written native culture. The spiritual custodians of the conquerors, the Roman Catholic clergy, had destroyed the latter while they effectively forbade further teaching of the native script. The people of the Philippines spoke many dialects, but the writing system was apparently uniform for all of them. The alphabet had contained 12 consonants and three vowels. Schumacher contended that "the use of the syllabary seems to have been confined to such practical and ephemeral uses as letters and the noting down of debts." 2 Other sources, such as Bernabe--quoted earlier--held that "laws, stories, and proverbs" were also recorded. 3
The natives' "long tradition of literacy" 4 was abruptly cut off by the conquerors. Despite repeated orders from Madrid, the friars refused to teach Spanish to the natives. Enough of the regional dialect was taught to enable the memorization of translated prayers. This practice also helped perpetuate division among the peasant masses, which served the Spaniards' political purpose.
The religious missionaries, who actually ruled from day to day, sought out collaborators from among the native chiefs whose children received a more advanced education. "The children proved enthusiastic and effective auxiliaries of the religious in winning over the parents to the new religion, reporting clandes-