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Dutch cleanser, Dutch treat, Dutch wife

Last year, the Washington Post published a photograph of President Donald Trump’s prepared speech for a coronavirus briefing that clearly showed the word “Corona” crossed out and replaced with “Chinese.” Trump’s racist take on COVID-19, first as a “foreign disease” and later as the “Chinese disease,” encouraged the current anti-Asian violence in the United States.

This pandemic will end some day and become history, and we will have a record of how we reacted and adapted to the disease. Classroom history made reference to the Black Death and the bubonic plague, but did not go into the impact of disease on history. Our study of the Spanish period would have been more engaging if we compared the beginnings of our colonization under Legazpi in the 16th century with the way the Cross and the Sword cleared the lush jungles and ancient civilizations of America. Thousands of native Americans were killed not by Spanish arms and warfare, but by the flu, measles, and smallpox brought over by the conquistadors. Come to think of it, no Philippine history textbook makes reference to the 1918 flu pandemic that infected an estimated 500 million people and killed 17-100 million. How did Filipinos then cope with a deadly strain of trancaso? I only learned about cholera and beri-beri in 19th-century Philippines after reading Jose Rizal’s family correspondence. The same for tuberculosis, leprosy, smallpox, and the bubonic plague mentioned in early 20th-century US colonial reports. Did Pinoys consider these as “foreign” diseases?

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Syphilis in historical sources was referred to as the “French disease” by Italians, Germans, and the British. Naturally, the French blamed someone else and called it the “Neapolitan disease,” while the Spanish referred to it as “The Soldier of Naples.” The Portuguese and Danes called syphilis the “Spanish disease”; Russians referred to it as the Polish disease, while the Poles called it the German disease. Worse, the Turks didn’t name it for a country but for a religion—“The Christian disease.” What is syphilis in Filipino? Is it the same as the “sakit babayi” that my aunts in Pampanga would whisper about when gossiping?

These random thoughts were generated by William Griffiths, who reacted to last Wednesday’s column on the abrasador with the reminder that: “…in Indonesia abrasadors are often called ‘Dutch Wives.’ Dutch colonialists had no wives with them in the early days so were seen hugging the bolster pillow instead. Probably used in a very tongue in cheek way by the house staff of the ruling Dutch.” My friend Jafar Suryomenggolo sent me links that led to a quote from Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia: “Indonesian people live with a vibrational feeling. We are the only nation in the world that has a kind of pillow that is used just for embracing. In every Indonesian sleeping place there is a pillow as a hulu and a small pillow called a bolster. This bolster is for us only to be held all night long. “

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Sukarno’s nationalistic reference was incorrect, since bolsters are used in other parts of the world and called by different names. The Indonesian term Bantal guking refers to its shape as a “roll pillow,” while some Pinoys call it a “Hotdog Pillow.” Pinoys also call it tandayan, “embalsamador” (embalmer!), and abrasador, from the Spanish “abrazo” (hug). Cambodians and Malaysians refer to it as a hug pillow, bantal peluk in Malay. Thais call it “monkhang” (pillow-beside). From the many English-language traveler accounts of Indonesia online that mention the “Dutch wife,” there was a Philippine reference in a 1901 lecture of O.G. Welbourn, MD, delivered before the Southern California Eclectic Medical Society. He described a Philippine bed of woven cane that had no slats, springs, or mattresses. The beddings were “completed by an ordinary pillow and a ‘Dutch wife.’ The latter is a cylindrical bolster stuffed with some kind of cool vegetable fiber, and it is worn between the legs. It does not have cold feet, neither does it talk back…Without this ‘sleeping machine’ there would be a long felt want in the Philippines.”

All the sources claim the abrasador aids in sleep, but there is a sexual reference to “Dutch wife” that requires more research, to make Pinoys think beyond Dutch as a brand name for a cleanser, or a rich ice cream flavor (Double Dutch), or Dutch treat, which we know as KKB (kanya-kanyang bayad).

—————-Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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