The summer months are here and everyone craves for the luxury of going to the beach or bathing in local resorts. In Spanish colonial Philippines, bathing was a common practice, indulged in by the everyone. With Manila’s main Pasig River and its many tributaries, bathing was easily engaged in by the natives. The following is an excerpt from Jean Mallat’s Les Philippines published in 1846, as translated by Pura Santillan-Castrence in collaboration with Lina S. Castrence, reprinted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
The Indios, men as well as women, take the greatest care in everything that has to do with the cleanliness of the body, and perhaps the former still more than the latter; they take a bath and wash themselves everyday in the river, and at least twice a week at home; for them it is a pleasure as well as a need. The bath taken at home consists in pouring a jug of water on the head by means of half a coconut shell, containing the equal of a bottleful, and this is refilled and emptied several times until there is nothing more in the jug, which is very big; this done, they wash the head with gogo water, that is to say water in which is placed a piece of bark from a large tree the mimosa family called gogo. This bark contains a very active alkaline principle which makes water froth as soap would and gives it a dark nankeen color. It cleanses the head perfectly; but when using it, one must take are to close the eyes because it irritates them and would cause an unpleasant sensation.
Indeed, bathing was an enjoyment and so were picnics that accompanied such relaxing activities.
Bathing, an indispensable activity, is done every day, not only by Indios, but also by whoever enjoys the advantage of living near a river, that is to say, almost everyday. On holidays, men, women and children jump into the water pell-mell, but half-dressed. The women with their thick hair, display ravishing grace. The tapis covers their bodies, and the men decently keep their pants on. Well-to-do whites have huts along rivers where they have no difficulty bathing with persons close to them, however numerous. The rivers of Marikina and San Mateo whose limpid waters are supposed to be very healthful, are much frequented in summer; and baths taken in their water mixed with the water from the Chorillo de Marikina, are a great help for gastric ailments. The bath is most beneficial in the morning; it is then always accompanied with ablutions of gogo decoction, mixed with the juice of a small lemon with the odor or bergamote (limoncito) leaving the head perfectly clean and perfumed. They eat in the bath, and the Europeans favored enough to have obtained permission to share it, although this practice will have disgusted him at the start, ends up by getting used to it and then eats with his hand the morisqueta, mangoes, cageles, guisados, ham, tapa and salted pajos. After lunch, one invariably serves buyo and the whole company smokes together.