The tabò (TAH-boh) is the traditional Filipino hygiene tool primarily for cleansing, bathing, and cleaning the floor of the bathroom. The tabo could most commonly be found in the provinces though it is also widely used in the cities.
The tabo can sometimes be translated into English as a "dipper" or "pitcher", but according to Dr. Michael Tan, chancellor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and a columnist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, that translation is weak. In his opinion article entitled "'Tabo' Culture", which was posted online at the Philippine Daily Inquirer website on May 24, 2011, Tan said that the tabo is much more than a dipper. For a stronger translation, use Tubby he said. The plastic tabo is an almost indispensable fixture in the Filipino home. Filipinos living overseas will bring their own tabo or even ask their relatives to send one over if ever they forget.
The tabo is the Filipino's version of dipper that is also well known in other Southeast Asian countries that use their own version of a dipper. The "modern" tabo was created during the introduction of plastic by the Americans, using modern material to create the dipper instead of traditional coconut and bamboo. Back then, the tabo was called a sartin, from the Spanish sartén. In the past, sources of water were sometimes few and far between, causing the ancestors of today's Filipinos to develop the "sartin". Instead of standing up each time to be able to reach the water source and wash their hands, the sartin is passed around to save time and essentially, water, according to historian Lito Nunag from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
The tabò and its equivalent in many traditional homes in Southeast Asia is not so much a toilet item as an all-purpose household object. It is found at the entrance of the house, next to a terracotta water jar, a palayók, so guests can wash their hands and feet before entering the house. There, the tabo speaks of courtesies, the host's as well as the guest's. In the traditional kitchen, the tabo is again found with the palayók, which keeps and cools drinking water. The tabò is strategically located there for the purposes of taking out water to drink and of washing of hands and/or dishes. The tabò reflects an obsession with cleanliness, one which seems to have declined over time as the palayók and the tabò disappeared, or, in the case of the tabò, was relegated to the toilet and limited to its present, less sanitary function.
The plastic tabo is kept mainly in the bathroom and is used as a water dipper for various functions. The emphasis is on properly utilizing the tabo or else a mess will be made in the toilet. Its primary purpose is to clean. It is used to clean the toilet floor, to get water to flush the toilet, and most importantly, to get water for personal cleanliness: for washing the anus after using the toilet, for washing hands, for shampooing, or for bathing the whole body.
Filipinos use the tabo in addition to or instead of toilet paper to wash after using the bathroom. Not all toilets in the Philippines have an automatic flush, so instead, a timbâ (generally a plastic pail with a metal handle) and a tabò kept floating inside it is used. Upon entering the toilet, the pail should be checked if it has enough water. Filipinos thoroughly wash their hands after going to the toilet, using water and any available cleansing agent be it soap or a laundry detergent bar.
Dr. Michael Tan mentioned that in the 17th century, the Jesuit Ignacio Alcina noticed how different words were used in the Visayan languages to refer to washing the feet, the hands, and the genitalia. One of Dr. Tan's readers wrote to confirm this, giving the many verbs for different types of washing, many of which probably involved the tabò.
Adaptation to the environment
The tabo is crafted out of two of the more ubiquitous items in the Philippine natural environment: coconut and bamboo.
The use of the tabo is ecological in the way it recycles coconut shells. More importantly with regards to the toilet, it allows an economical use of water, often a scarce resource in many of the homes of Filipino families. For this purpose, the traditional tabo loses in terms of effectivity in saving water to the modern plastic version. The traditional tabo was developed in a pre-toilet era. It takes less water than the plastic one, not enough for flushing the toilet. The plastic tabo takes just about the right amount of water, which can have enough force for flushing, but that also requires some degree of artistry in the way one douses the water.
Non-Filipinos might be disgusted about this practice, but Filipinos will cringe if they learn that a person uses only toilet paper.
A controversy where in a Filipino machine operator was reportedly sacked by an engineering firm in Australia allegedly for his toilet habits sparked last January 2009. A Townsville Bulletin report posted on news.com.au said that Amador Bernabe, 43 years old, who is a Filipino machine operator, was kicked out of his job by the Townsville Engineering Industries (TEI) for using water, instead of toilet paper, to clean himself during toilet visits. After conducting due investigation, the Filipino, in the end, got his job back in the firm.
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