Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Women's Sexuality in the Old Philippines

Much has been said about the political and economic situation of the Old Philippines in the history books. There's been something written and published about the campaigns of the Spanish Conquistadors, the Missionaries, the Galleon Trade and the likes. History classes taught us all of these milestones but very briefly about the lifestyle and culture of ours during the different centuries of our history. One thing not readily available is sexuality.

In the late 15th century, a certain historian and Jesuit priest, Pedro Chirino wrote about his stay in the country, as well as the behavior of our ancestors. He, like the other missionaries, were quick to see the practices of early Filipinos.

According to them, virginity was considered as a liability for early Filipinas. Women recognize not having sexual relations at a certain age is very unfortunate and humiliating. Maybe because one can be called unattractive and nobody would like that. They believed that when one dies, a woman who hasn't slept with any man cannot go to the afterlife or will have difficulty in getting there. As retold by Spanish missionaries, no one really bothered about virgins, pre-marital relations do go all the way, and having concubines isn't strange.

Back then, the act of sexual intercourse was regarded as a beautiful, natural act and was never viewed as something shameful. To a certain extent, its something to be proud about and connects it to pleasure and fulfillment. Early Filipinos term the climax in intercourse as "calualhatian," which is also the term used for the place to go in the afterlife, similar to heaven. It can be deduced that early Filipino women are proud of their bodies and sexuality, putting equal claim to it just as the men.

Since sexuality is unfettered, pregnancy is always a possibility. Curiously, the methods of birth control is rather "barbaric" as European historians would term it. Abortion is common, so as not to go over the comfortable level of children per family. Through the consumption of popular herbs and the help of the local herbalist at the earliest stage of pregnancy, regular menstruation is ensured as well as population control.

Don't think that our male and female ancestors are running around naked, hormones raging all the time and doing nothing but lusting after each other. Never seee what's written here as savagery. In fact, our ancestors are very sophisticated people. They were organized, clothed and very much functional in their roles to society. The boxer codex images gives us a very clear look at how early Tagalogs look like in the 1590s.

Campaigning against the "devilish" practice, the Spanish missionaries formed the image of an ideal Filipina. With the help of the newly established Spanish government structure and mass indoctrinization, slowly, women began to hide and let go of old practices. We can never know how internalized this went, but the Maria Clara image has become the stereotype maintained by the friars and priests in the minds of all that even up to now persists as a standard.

Somehow, now at the present, there is a sense of liberation for Filipino women. They are empowered, given bigger roles in society and slowly coming out of the Maria Clara shell. The daughters of Filipino families are still bound by morals, virtues and norms, yet it is a society taboo to acknowledge that these rules or tenets are frequently broken outside of marriage. It happens, no one just talks about it in the open, or else be called cheap or a whore. There is a certain confusion, as centuries of conditioning is at clash with what is probably genetically embedded in the women of the Philippines. See, the Filipina is trying to break free, trying to regain her identity.