The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (October 2021)
The tabò (Tagalog pronunciation: [ˈtaːbɔʔ]) is the traditional hygiene tool primarily for cleansing, bathing, and cleaning the floor of the bathroom in the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia, and Brunei. Tabò is the Filipino name, while Gayung and Cebok (pronounced chabo') are the equivalent terms used in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and East Timor. The tabo could most commonly be found in the provinces though it is also widely used in the cities. The word may be related to the word cebok in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, which describes the process of cleansing oneself using a tabò.
The tabo can sometimes be translated into English as a "dipper" or "pitcher", but according to 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.
Tabo is also widely used anywhere in a household such as a measuring tool. 1 tabo is 1 liter. Usually, the old tabo is the used plastic container of 1 liter motor oil.
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.
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 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 (apart from non-Filipino Muslims who use similar hygiene practices, or others from places in Asia and Africa where the use of water is normal) may find the practice strange.
A controversy sparked in January 2009 when a Filipino machine operator was reportedly sacked by an engineering firm in Australia allegedly for his toilet habits. 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.
- Istinja – a similar Muslim practice for hygiene
- Lota (vessel) – an equivalent vessel used in the Indian subcontinent and Africa
- Ladle (spoon)
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