Pinoy’s Tabo culture

by Willie Jose

| Photo by Harditaher via Wikimedia Commons

When we think about our Filipino culture, many things come to mind: Bahay Kubo, Tinikling, Kundiman, Kalesa, Jeepneys, Singkil, Fiesta, Parol, Baro’t Saya, Barong Tagalog, Balikbayan Box-– and the handy Tabo.

Of all these cultural icons, the tabo is doubtless an indispensable fixture of the culture. And whether we are working abroad, living as immigrants, or have acquired citizenship in foreign lands, the tabo in our homes is a good measure if we. have remained Pinoys at heart.

We use tabo as a hygiene tool for cleaning the bums, bathing, and hand washing. The toilet paper is not enough to completely clean ourselves after using the toilet; the tabo is the preferable option.

When I was at the Cederbrae mall in Toronto, I had a chance to chat with a couple, and out of the blue, our little talk veered towards tabo’s usefulness. The woman told me that aside from the toilet paper, she has to use tabo to clean her private parts, and “I feel so uneasy if I don’t use my tabo, I feel something is left there. “

If we want to identify our kababayans living abroad, we have to look around for their tabo in their bathroom.

However, many Pinoys would rather not talk about it openly, especially at the table eating or with foreign friends, because tabo’s rightful place today is supposed to be only in the toilet. And these days, people would avoid mentioning the word toilet; instead, they would go to the washroom, bathroom, or powder room.

Recently, some of my friends had a short vacation in New York, and before they could leave Toronto, I sent them a message on Facebook, asking them if they were taking their tabo with them.

I might elicit some responses from them because a close friend who was going with them once told me that even on her foreign trips, she made sure her tabo was always with her.

But when my wife read the message, she said,” It’s too personal naman.” On hearing my wife’s comment, I immediately sent a sorry note, telling them, “I’m writing at present an article about tabo. “

When my family and I visited my brother in North Carolina last month, I was impressed by his home’s beauty and simplicity. One time I went to their washroom and couldn’t find the tabo. Looking around their all-white bathroom with stainless showers and pipes, I wondered, have they forgotten about our tabo culture, totally absorbing the American style of living?

But to my surprise, I found a small tabo lying in the little corner of their bathtub.

With this kind of culture, I would say that we are the cleanest people in the world because toilet paper is not enough for us to clean our bums.

In some way, we help green the environment; less toilet paper or baby wipes means less cutting of trees.

Our kababayans would not buy rolls of toilet paper though they are on sale at supermarkets; why would they buy them if using the plain water plus tabo could mean significant savings for them?

Those foreigners planning to visit the Philippines must learn how to use it. Even in hotels, pension houses, and resorts where they’re staying, the tabo is a regular fixture in the bathroom of these facilities. And if they’re going mountain climbing or visiting the countryside, they cannot expect to see rolls of toilet paper in these places; the tabo is the only option they have when the call of nature hits them.

Big malls sell these tabo, and the sidewalk vendors sell them too.

During the country’s colonial period, people placed tabo beside a water jar near the house door; they used tabo primarily to wash the guests’ hands and feet before entering the house.

Even these days, tabo is still famous back home; it has many uses: for washing the dishes, cleaning hands and body, and taking a bath– and that’s why we have been so attached to it all our lives.

Despite the amenities of modern bathrooms—Jacuzzi, stainless shower, faucet, mini bar, towel rail- we ensure the tabo is always within our reach somewhere in the bathroom.

Culture is culture, so whatever status in life we’ve reached, whatever lifestyle we’re now enjoying, our tabo will always be a part of us.

It will always be a part of our daily routine: working, eating, sleeping, and emptying “uh”—and then, we say, “where’s the tabo?”

Willie Jose | File Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Willie Jose is a graduate of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. He now lives in Toronto, Canada.

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1 comment

Gregory Airliner December 25, 2022 - 6:40 am

This tabo culture needs to be pushed away. It’s the 21st century, and I can’t believe that some things like these are still taboo.


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