Bathing in Spanish Colonial Manila

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.


Frutas y Plantas: Place Names in Manila


Tamarind Leaves

It is peculiar how place names are derived. In the city of Manila, it is interesting how names take root from endemic plants, fruits or the nature of the land. Take for example Quiapo. The name comes from the water hyacinth kiyapo which abounded in Quiapo’s estuaries. Its nearby district of Sampaloc comes from the tamarind trees, which sadly are no longer around, or maybe just in a mere scattering along the district’s few private gardens and street islands. Binondo comes from binundok or the once hilly terrain of the land. Pandacan was from pandanan, or the pandanus plant, the tropical plant with aromatic leaves used for cooking. Its other variety has its leaves used for making the all-around Filipino banig or mat, and bayong or basket. Nearby Paco is a nickname for the Franciscans, who administered spiritually to its citizens. But, Paco has a long history that dates back to the 17th century when it was founded as a village called Dilao, after the turmeric plant which abounded in the area. In fact, the very old district of Santa Ana was the seat of the pre-colonial kingdom of Sapa, so named after a brook or stream, referring to the nearby Pasig River. Mandaluyong comes from “may daluyong” referring to the surging sound of the river current, and Makati is from “ma kati” or the place where the river current is strong. Malate comes from maalat for the salt beds that were cultivated there. Intramuros stands on the old Maynilad kingdom of Raja Soliman. Maynilad literally means may nilad or where there is nilad. Nilad is a type of mangrove plant or scyciphora with white flowers tinged with pink . Thus, may nilad or or manilad means there is nilad or a proliferation of nilad.   Somehow the “d” at the end was dropped.  It is enlightening how etymology can give us bits of the past and how the city must have been in all its raw and natural beauty ages ago, before it has become a jungle of concrete, traffic and busy lives.


Tamarind Leaves Photo By Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Going back to Binondo

After the recipes on soap and room mist making, I will bring you back to history.  Binondo as a fertile ground for Christian Catholic conversion was at its peak during the 16th and 17th centuries.  In fact, the first fruits of sanctity of the town was Lorenzo Ruiz and Madre Ignacia del Espiritu Santo.  Lorenzo Ruiz served as sacristan in Binondo Church before he left for Japan with a group of Dominican missionaries.  All members of the group were martyred.  Ignacia on the other hand was born in the Church of Parian, the Iglesia de los Santos Reyes, which was originally located outside of the Walled City and where the Metropolitan theater would now be located.  Mother Ignacia became a cloistered nun of the Beaterio de la Compania, running the convent under the Jesuits.

Speaking of religion in Binondo, the Dominicans also established a hospital for the Chinese which was the Hospital de San Gabriel, also known as the Hospital de Chinos or Hospital de Sangleyes.  From outside the walls of Intramuros, it found a permanent site opposite the Pasig River, in the island of Binondo.  The site was along the river, on the area now occupied roughly by the old Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building, beside El Hogar building in Binondo.  It closed down after the British Occupation upon orders of the Governor General — a result of the Chinese siding with the British during their invasion of the colony in 1762 to 1764.  Many Chinese were expelled from the colony, the hospital closed down and only a few Chinese, who were engaged in agriculture in the countryside, were allowed to remain.  The Parian was eventually demolished and the dispersion of the non-Catholic Chinese ensued.  Many of them sought residence in the nearby arrabales of Manila, the walled city — Pandacan, Quiapo, Santa Cruz, Ermita, Malate, Binondo, Tondo, San Miguel.  But realizing the importance of the Chinese as providers of goods and services, they were allowed again to have their own enclave, but this time, within the confines of the Walled City of Manila, where they could be properly monitored.  This new enclave would be known as the Alcaiceria (Silk market) de San Jose.  

Talking about a silk market, there was an earlier silk market known as the Alcaiceria de San Fernando which was established in Binondo in the 18th century.  It was closed down after the British Occupation, destroyed by a fire and was never rebuilt, but whose extant remains were used to be part of the new customhouse in that part of Binondo.  Later, during the American colonial regime, the Alcaiceria would be used as site for the quartermaster’s depot and a new school.  This school survives to this day as the Pedro Guevara Elementary School.

A visit to the P. Guevara Elementary School reveals a school that prides itself in its heritage.  There is a mini museum that presents the history of the site with interesting plans and photographs of the old Alcaiceria and artifacts uncovered from its Spanish colonial past.  A visit to the museum is free and the interested visitor is always welcomed by the school administrators who will give him a tour of their museum.  

Romance is in the air

It is February 1 and the month of hearts and love begins.  What better way to add a little whiff of romance to your home by creating a  room mist to give that touch of freshness and romance to your space.  Here is a recipe for a lovely blend:

Romantic Blend Room Mist

63  ml   deodorized ethyl alcohol or perfume grade alcohol (95%)

30 ml distilled water (Absolute or Wilkins brand will do)

1.5 ml  Ylang Ylang essential oil

1.5 ml Rose essential oil

4 ml  Lavender essential oil

One  100 ml size   spritzer bottle

1.  Prepare the spritzer bottle by making sure it is clean.

2.  Place a little of the water or of the alcohol in the bottle.

3.  Add essential oils.  Stir the oil and water or alcohol mixture.

4.  Add the rest of the water and alcohol to the compound.  Close the bottle with its cover.

5.  Shake very well.  Now it is ready to use!

6.  Keep in a cool place.

You may want to know where to get the ingredients.  Here in Metro Manila, you can buy perfume grade alcohol or deodorized ethyl alcohol and essential oils from the following:

Sogomi Enterprises (Diliman, Quezon City)

Chemworld Fragrance Factory (Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. corner Makati Ave., Makati City)

Fragrant World (Calantas St., San Antonio Village, Makati City)

Islas Aromatics (Libis, Quezon City)

Please check their websites for the pricelist.

For  bottle spritzers, you may want to get in touch with:

Bestpak Philippines (P. Florentino Street near Araneta Avenue, Quezon City)

Grasse Fragrance (Makati City)

Fragrant World (Makati City)

Chemworld Fragrance Factory (Makati City)

Islas Aromatics (Libis, Quezon City)



Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!  It is the first day of the Chinese new year and Binondo, supposedly the oldest Chinatown in the world, is once again alive.  Binondo was originally an island, known as the Isla de Binundok or Minondoc, after its hilly terrain.  The name has since been transformed to Binondo, and so has the island community been expanded to the outer fringe near the bay.  What once was Baybay, literally meaning beach, became the old barrio of Binondo, known as San Nicolas.  It is now a separate district from Binondo.

The Governor General Luis Perez de Dasmarinas purchased Binondo from a Spanish couple  Luis and Sebastiana del Valle in 1594 and offered it to the Chinese who had themselves baptized into the Catholic faith.  Baptism into the Catholic faith gave the Chinese the privilege to leave the Chinese ghetto or Parian and stay in Binondo, where they could freely mingle with the native populace and marry  native women.  This appropriated island became the site of the first settlement of Catholic Chinese who married native women and were able to engage freely in enterprise.  Binondo became the cradle of the first generation of Chinese mestizos or hybrids who had native women as their mothers and Chinese as their fathers.  To supervise them were the religious from the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.  The settlement began to have a church which later was dedicated to San Gabriel the archangel but which later was dedicated to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.  Thus, the main road of the town came to be known as Calle Rosario, now Quintin Paredes Street, after the Virgin.

Map of Manila

Map of Manila

Puente de Binondo with Panciteria Macanista

My Sweet Vanilla Soap

My Sweet Vanilla Soap

Here is how my soaps came out.

Here is how my soaps came out.

I bought glycerin soap base and thought of making soaps to share for Valentine’s Day!

The following is the recipe for My Sweet Vanilla Soap:

500 g clear glycerin soap base

1/4 tsp muscovado sugar or brown sugar

1/4 tsp of shea butter

1/4 tsp Vitamin E oil

1/4 tsp of sweet almond oil

2 tsp of vanilla scent or vanilla oil (you may add just 1 tsp depending on how strong you want the scent)

1.  Cut the glycerin base in chunks.

2.  Melt in a double boiler.

3.  When all of glycerin is almost melted, stir in sugar for a nice brown color.

4.  Add in shea butter and sweet almond oil.  Stir well.

5.  Add in vanilla oil or vanilla scent.

8.  Pour in heart-shaped molds and spray rubbing alcohol to prevent bubbles on top.

9.  Let cool for a few hours.

10.  Unmold and enjoy!

11.  If you want to store them, use cling wrap paper and keep in cool dry place.