Saturday, June 26, 2010


HAIR THERE AND EVERYWHERE. A long-tressed lady from Central Luzon shows of her long, wavy mane ('mala-Birhen") in this posed photograph. Ca. 1930s.

Our crowning glory—our hair, that is—has always been a major grooming concern of our forebears, particularly, the womenfolk. Next to the skin, it is the hair on their head that is lavishly pampered, and even foreigners writing in the 19th century took note of the special way in which women washed their coal-black tresses with ‘gugu’, a native shampoo concocted from the bark of a gugu tree and perfumed with an orange called 'kabuyao' or with the aromatic leaves of sale-sale. Curious observers took note of how women shined their hair with coconut oil then coiled into a neat bun (sanggul) and held together with peinetas of tortoiseshell and gold.

Many superstitious beliefs and practices have come down to us revolving around hair and which have since become part of our pop culture. In dreams, cutting of hair bodes misfortune. It is believed that cutting hair in the evening can result in headaches. If done after an illness, it may lead to relapse or ‘binat’. Again, cutting one’s hair immediately after the death of a parents can make the soul restless. A pregnant woman is ill-advised not to cut her hair lest her baby is born bald. Old folks also maintain that sleeping with wet hair can cause blindness or even dementia.

In the Victorian age, a dead person was remembered by his hair. The hair of the dead was cut, collected and placed in gold lockets, a form of memento mori. Those with more artistic bent braided and coiled dead people’s hair into flowers and framed these in shadow boxes—unique examples of mourning art. In 19th century Philippines, Adela Paterno mastered the art of ‘hair painting’, in which fine strands of hair were woven into fabric to create whole figures and picturesque sceneries.

Indeed, many Kapampangans even today judge a person’s character by how he/she cared for his hair. One who kept his/her uncombed is deemed as burara or careless—and can’t be relied on to do good domestic work. A curly-haired person is looked at as having a bad temperament. A woman endowed with “buwak mala-Birhen” was looked at as someone virtuous, chaste and decent. One’s identity and/or ethnicity was determined by hair types. “kulot” referred to Aetas while “unats” were those from the lowlands. Hair—or the absence of it, defined a person in the community—hence, in a remote barrio, it is not uncommon to hear one talk of “Inggong Kalbu" or "Nardong Kulot”.

One’s personal hygiene is also dependent on one’s hair condition. When American doctors came over to the Philippines to check the state of sanitation of the country, they were appalled at the extent of lice infestation among Filipinos. The quaint practice of picking lice on each other’s head so fascinated photographers of the period that they took souvenir snaps of luxuriant haired women ‘squirreling’.

But even writers were entranced with women’s hair so much so that Kapampangan Aurelio Tolentino wrote the novel “Ing Buwak ng Ester” (Ester’s Hair). It is a detective narrative that revolved around the conflict of two brothers, in which a handkerchief containing a strand of hair was used as a ploy to bring the criminal out in the open. The novel was a smashing success in its time.

As for men, they had fewer hair concerns, as they grew their hair long and luxuriant during our pre-colonial days. Barbering was introduced during the Spanish times for our hirsute colonizers needed not just regular trims for their hair but also coiffing and waxing of their beards, goatees and moustaches. Clean-shaven Filipinos had simpler needs so the basic services of self-trained barbers sufficed. Of course, Macabebe warriors defied convention and authority by growing their hair long and unkempt, just like ‘bandoleros’ of old.

It was the Chinese, however, who became adept barbers and made a business of this skill, often making the rounds of barrios while they carried the tools of their trade—scissors, razors and a stool for customers to sit on. An additional service is ear wax removal, where the ear is picked clean with a ‘panluga’.

The eventual ‘Americanization’ of the Philippines opened the eyes of the youth to the ways and styles of their culture and many started aping the hair fads of the day: from the slick-back Valentino look (parted in the middle, Cachupoy-style) to the curls of Shirley Temple and the Flapper girl bob cut. Young men greased their hair with Brilliantine, Palikero or Tarzan pomade.

The military gave us the ‘flat top’, the ‘crew cut’ and the ‘white side wall’ and the extent by which hair is shaved off the side is indicated by ‘2-fingers’ or ‘3-fingers’. In 50s, the James Dean look prevailed with hair dabbed with Glo-Co to make it behave just like the mane of the screen rebel. Girls had their spraynets to achieve the beehive or fly-away look in the 60s. The trademark hairstyles of the Beatles, Farrah Fawcett, David Cassidy were imitated by millions of teens worldwide.

Today of course, the range of hairstyles for both men and women is simply amazing. Aside from the traditional ‘gupit baintau’ (men’s cut), there’s ‘syete’ (where sideburns are lopped at an angle), Mohawk, geometric cut, asymmetrical cut and even a Korean boy band look. Where hair was once only bunned or braided, it can now be permed, sculpted, tinted, dyed, highlighted, streaked, re-bonded, relaxed and woven. Come bad hair days or good hair days, our preoccupation with our hair remains, pampered with special salon treatment, washed with the latest anti-dandruff shampoo brand and trimmed at a posh barber shop. Then, as now, we know that it is in looking good that we feel good.

1 comment:

bleak said...

love the crimped hair!