Friday, May 15, 2009


OY, OT LAGU-LAGU KA KEN!? A Kapampangan belle exposes her beauty to the world, in this staged photo, dated 1924.

When our Spanish and American colonizers beheld the beauty of the “india”, they were divided in their descriptions of her physical attributes. Some marvelled at her cleanliness, her long luxurious tresses combed through with coconut oil. Still others found her flat nose and sunburnt complexion unattractive, which goes to show that beauty is defined not just by the eyes of the beholder, but also by the standards set by old-age culture and tradition.

Our contact with the Western world have forever changed our concept of beauty, and today, Filipinas—and that includes Kapampangans—pursue the art of beautification with a more western perspective. Where years before, chiseled, pointed teeth, a tattooed body and kutis kayumanggi were what made a woman beautiful, women now aspire for fairer skin, unblemished complexion and Close-Up white teeth. Black, long tresses have given way to short hair with blonde or burgundy highlights—all easily achievable today by using whitening soaps and clinically-advanced toothpastes, spending hours in a salon, or going to a cosmetic doctor.

But what did our grandmothers use when all these modern, chemical-laden cosmetics and expensive body-altering services were not even in the figments of product researchers’ imagination? Count on the inventiveness of the Filipina to save the day. My mother used to tell me that part of their primping rituals before they go to a party was to use red papel de japon to color their lips and cheeks. Achuete was an alternative but was better suited to coloring palabok, not cheeks. A much cheaper way to create instant blush was to give one’s self a quick slap on the cheeks. Gogo or plain starch was liberally used to give skin a white glow, and long hair was curled or straightened on a pakabayo (ironing board) using an ordinary plantsa (flat iron).

For those needing more practical help, a 1934 Kapampangan language book offered instant beauty solutions using commonplace ingredients found at home. Here are a few tips:

“ING DALAYAP, PAMPALAGU YA—Ing piga ning dalayap, makaputi ya king balat. Milalako in kintab ning lupa at makalako yang pekas. Nung paslan mu ing piga ning dalayap at ikuskus king lupa, abayan yu ditak a gatas, abak at gatpanapun, para kuminis ing kekang lupa. “

(LIME IS A BEAUTIFIER. The squeezed juice of a dalayap—Philippine lime-- whitens, removes the shine on skin as well as blemishes. Squeeze the juice, add a bit of milk then wipe you face morning and afternoon to smoothen your face).

The tip goes on to say that “nung buri yung muti ing balat yu, kuma kong metung a litrung danum, dinan yeng metung basung piga ning sagiwang dalayap at dinan yeng apulung patak ning aceite de rosas” (if you want to whiten skin, get a liter of water, add a glass of freshly-squeezed lime and 10 drops of rose oil). This concoction should be wiped on the face once a day to achieve the desired result.

“NUNG BURI YUNG MUTI ING IPAN, lasawan ing mabanglung sabun king danum at dinan yang ditak a aguardiente o agua de colonia, o espiritu de coclearia. Iti ing ikuskus yu king ipan.”

(If you want to whiten teeth, melt fragrant soap in water and add a little mouthwash, cologne or spirit of coclearia (?). Wipe your teeth with this.) Washing your soap with water

To strengthen teeth and avoid bad breath, all you need to do is: “kuma kong uling ning dutung, ilako ing abo at saka dikdikan king almiris. Ilulan king botelya at danuman…ing latak na niti ing gamitan aldo-aldo king pamaglinis ning kekong ipan..” (get charcoal from wood, remove the ash, and grind in a mortar. Put in a bottle, add water…use the residue every day to clean your teeth).

Hair is dealth with in more special ways:

BAN TULING ING MAPUTING BUAK, pabukal kong matapang a tsa at iti ing ikuskus yu mayap king buak abak at gatpanapun. (To blacken hair, boil strong tea and use this to wipe hair thoroughly, morning and afternoon).

To make hair shampoo, one has to make this formula—“ilulan ing claro ning ebon king ½ litrong danum a mapali at igogo. Isadya ing metung a palanggana a miki mapaling danum, dinan yang metung a kutsaritang borax”. (Mix eggwhite in ½ liter of hot water. Ready a wash basin with hot water, add a teaspoon of borax) . The egg white solution is then applied on the hair and is washed with the borax solution. The hair should be rinsed twice and this ritual should be done only once every 3 weeks, because “marok nung milako ing laru king buntuk” (it is also bad if you lose the oil on your scalp).

Next time you have a bad hair day or feel like Betty La Fea, open your pantry, your ref or your medicine cabinet—and make your own homemade beauty products, just like what Kapampangan belles did in the 1930s. There may not have been approved therapeutic claims—but they sure did work wonders!


Pungsu said...

"long hair was curled or straightened on a pakabayo (ironing board) using an ordinary plantsa (flat iron)"

This is not really far-fetched although today's hand held curlers or straighteners are descendants of hand held iron curlers. These were gently heated by burying them in charcoal amber and cooled down. The shape and mechanism are still very much the same as today's electrically heated curlers.

"what did our grandmothers use when all these modern, chemical-laden cosmetics and expensive body-altering services were not even in the figments of product researchers’ imagination"

Facial makeup and lipstick were already in fashion in Jose Rizal's time. Listerine and toothpaste were not far behind. We did not use them because they were expensive and almost unavailable outside Manila. Condom as we know it today was made in the middle 1800's. By World War I it was already fashionable to have one in the pocket when the need arises.

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