Music & Culture
Music & Culture

Kristian Kabuay and his Baybayin Calligraphy Artworks

Kristian Kabuay and his Baybayin Calligraphy Artworks

Mynila Team May 28, 2018 Music & Culture

Kristian is a self-taught artist influenced by calligraphy, graffiti, abstract art, indigenous culture, technology and Asian writing systems.




Kristian Kabuay working on a banana tree paper

He was born in the Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and spent his college years in the Philippines where he honed his knowledge about the native ancient writing system, Baybayin.  mynila_baybayin_40

2.5×3.5 watercolor paper and  carabao nonvegan horn 

My first exposure to Baybayin was during my junior year in high school in the US. I remember finding an old pamphlet and encyclopedia entry about the Katipunan and the revolution.
In it, there were photos of all the revolution flags. It tripped me out that we had a KKK flag (during that time I was studying Black Nationalism concepts). The three symbols that were engraved in my brain were:
The black pirate looking flag with a skull
The sun with eight rays and
A strange looking capital “I”.

When I learned that it represented “K” in our very own indigenous alphabet, I made it my personal goal to learn how to read and write Baybayin.


“Na” Baybayin character


12×18 Bahala na framed print

After high school, I left the US and moved back to the Philippines to try something different. My intention was only to stay for a few years but ended up staying for nearly a decade. During that time, I was exposed to a lot of different art forms from graphic/web design, fashion, music, and photography that changed my thought process and attitude. When I first got to Manila, I was the typical Hip Hop Amboy. Meeting all these Filipinos from all over the world really opened my eyes.

In relation to Baybayin, I didn’t really practice the script while I was living in the Philippines due to the lack of interest and literature. However, I did get to check out some of the old Spanish era books with Baybayin at a museum when I was in college. Since this was before the internet, I only had one “xerox” copy of a Baybayin chart I got from a schoolbook. I think my most important lesson was getting proper historical and cultural context of the script. That was more challenging than learning how to write it.


Salamat meaning Thank You

Even though I was studying the script for a while, I pretty much forgot it in the Philippines.
It wasn’t until after I got on the internet and discovered that I wasn’t the only one with a passion for the dead script.

When I got back to the states, I met Aleks Figueroa who helped rekindle my interest even more. After that, I started writing again and got back into the groove. As a web guru by trade and a life long Entrepreneur, it made sense to start and to fill much needed holes in the online Filipino community. After posting my Baybayin tattoo on PinoyTattoos, a few people have asked me to tell them more about it and help them translate. I guess you can call that the light bulb moment.


Mahal, meaning love or expensive 


“Ga” character

My Baybayin art is influenced by brush styles, Asian writing systems, abstract painting and graffiti.
I used to mess with spaypaint in the mid 80’s on the walls separating homes from the railroad tracks in my neighborhood. One of my graffiti idols was Dream. I didn’t even know that he was Filipino until he was murdered in 2000.
I put the spraypaint and markers away for a while and shifted to digital. Over the past few years, I’ve picked up markers and pens again along with brushes to incorporate with Baybayin.

Kristian has been tirelessly advocating a reawakening of the indigenous spirit through decolonization and Baybayin.


Bagong Taon meaning New Year 

My work explores pre- to post- Filipino culture in the diaspora. Using Baybayin, the nearly extinct indigenous Filipino writing system as a foundation, I incorporate and deconstruct calligraphy and graffiti methods. Didactic in nature, my works both entertain and instruct while exploring themes of identity, poverty, death, love, and duality. By blending the ancient script with contemporary aesthetics, my work bridges time and space, as well as challenges the necessity of economic value to prove our cultural heritage worthy of preserving.


Angkan meaning Clan 

When I internalized what Baybayin meant to me, I realized it was a gateway to our pre-colonial past and what it meant to be living in a post-colonial world. As a kid, it blew my mind when I learned about the 1849 Clavería Decree where we were given last names for tax purposes. Since then, the name Filipino has always struck a chord with me. It’s what we’re known as. An umbrella term that also marginalized other indigenous cultures within the Philippines in favor of Manila/Tagalog based one. Instead of saying pre-colonial script, I coined the term PreFilipino script in 2011 to describe Baybayin as a social experiment.



Multistroke LA baybayin character 

I recall getting funny looks and questions to explain what I meant by PreFilipino because they’ve always thought of us a Filipino. I’ve been making shirts since high school as a way to express ideas.
I wanted something deeper so I scrapped all the designs I knew that would sell and strictly used Baybayin and a PreFilipino lens when designing. While the design is important to me as an artist, the message is more important. It’s my intention that people look at the apparel and dig deeper into their own history to live in the present and seed the future. Each piece has a story about the duality of the Pilipinx diaspora that may not always have answers but will definitely raise questions.

Baybayin is a pre-Filipino writing system from the islands known as the “Philippines”. Baybayin comes from the word “baybay”, which literally means “spell”. You may know the script by the incorrect term of Alibata that was coined by Paul Versoza in the 1920’s.


Malaya: free

It was named after the first three characters of the Arabic alphabet, Alif, Ba and Ta. Our indigenous scripts have roots in India, not the Middle East. It’s speculated that Versoza wanted something that sounded like alphabet (Alpha-Beta) even though he knew it was called Baybayin. While Alibata is just a misnomer of the term, there’s a practical reason why you should stay away from using it and educate others. When you Google Alibata, the results are old, lacking information, provide no context and sometimes incorrect. There are no authorities that use the term.

Today, this ancient script is being resurrected thanks to young, soul searching Filipinos.