Another nephew, this one in his mid-thirties accompanied me to an uninhabited island. The beach to ourselves, and nudity was not a problem, also not for him. He had been trying it before when his girlfriend was there. She had not ventured, but he apparently had liked it.
I am curious to know to whom he will show the pictures, but the day after he broadcast his newly found freedom to anyone within hearing range in his family. I think I was his guardian angel; he could talk about it with me around.
This is a special point:
Can one say or do what one thinks, or should one rather say or do what one thinks is socially acceptable. That is different from one country to the next. The Dutch would probably be better represented in the first category, while the Filipinos would fit better in the second.
My nephew therefore kind of “trespassed” the rule.
There once was this young Filipina in the Netherlands – let’s call her Neneng – who was about to share the rest of her life with a seasoned naturist, but things went awry. The Filipino community took care of her. “Did you know she was going in the nude and would frequent a nude beach?” one of my wife’s acquaintances was overheard saying. But she said it loud enough for it to be heard by the other Filipinas around. The hidden message was clear: This was reprehensible, wasn’t it? “Oh, it is such a marvellous feeling, skinny-dipping on a beach. My husband and I always go there”, my wife remarked. Then something special happened. Because of my wife’s age – she had passed 60 at the time this happened – and because of her position in the Philippine community, my wife’s remark had a special impact.
The gossipmonger (that’s what she was) and the bystanders had to reconsider their point of view as soon they noticed that they could not count on the reaction they had deemed socially desirable. If my wife does it, it must be something else than what we think, or what we think we should think. My wife still chuckles about it.
The book draws a lot of money nowadays in my favourite second-hand bookstore in Manila: “The Filipino Nude, the Human Figure in Philippine Art and A Portfolio of Nudes.” I ran into this book back in the 70s. The most fascinating are the pictures of the totally relaxed models in the studio, and even nicer on a boat in Manila Bay. Alfredo Roces, the author, notes that Filipinos in the past did not have hang-ups about being nude. The hang-ups resulted from the advent of the Spanish friars and were intensified by the American Protestant missionaries.
The book from the mid-70s is of the opinion that that attitude started to loosen up again over the past years.
“The irony of it, of course, is that one has to be first colonially guilt-ridden about sex to be able to gain the new colonial sense of liberation from inhibitions over sex and nudity,” according to Roces who also gives a quote from one of the mountain dwellers from the Igorot group in the early twentieth century: “With clothes we are good Christians, without clothes good Igorots.” It could not possibly have been stated more precisely. I wonder where we ourselves are positioned on this continuum…
We were in a brand-new hotel in the capital of an island south of Luzon and notice with amazement a painting showing nudes in a landscape, my topic… Too bad, it was too difficult to photograph. The canvas would have occupied a place of honour in the book.
I notice curious objects in the little shop of my niece, a daughter of my wife’s sister. Like this pepper and salt shaker in the form of a reclining woman. The breasts are the pepper and the salt shakers. That is one side. The other one is that she would not be given permission to sell these “X-rated products” in the brand-new shopping mall. Never mind that the name of the mall is SM. Nobody in the Philippines would think of anything else but Shoemart, that’s the full name of this large chain store.
All of a sudden along the coastal road we notice a sculpture of a mermaid perched on a rock in the sea. It would not have been out of place in Copenhagen harbour. I haven’t found out what the meaning of it was, but we decide to take a picture of it. In a restaurant, we later find a painted mermaid and a small statue of a nude toddler seated on a dolphin. The little chap has a little “willie” (penis) in bright red. Again, we are flabbergasted by so many paradoxes.
People’s relation to nudity has strong cultural overtones. That is at least what I thought to have gathered from a short feature program on television when I was in the Philippines. There had been an outbreak of a variant of elephantiasis among some ethnic group: People got swollen legs, and most spectacular of all, a very swollen scrotum. The program showed various men and their affliction. Even the full genitals were shown as if it were common to show male nudity. I have a nasty theory about that program. This uncensored nudity was possible, not because the topic was medical, although that might have contributed to it.
This uncensored nudity on Philippine television was possible because it was about men from a minority group, “ethnic Filipinos,” not your “lowland Filipino.” It reminded me of National Geographic Magazine which showed brown and black but never white nudity.
Let’s go back for a while to the Igorot, inhabitants of the Northern mountain range on Luzon. Both male and female Igorot work (worked?) in their terraced rice paddies in the nude, removing their G-strings before working so as not to get them muddy. Very, very practical, it would seem to me. But we were not even allowed to photograph men in G-strings.
Would that be caused by the fact that they had already partly internalized Christian norms? Or is it more basic than that and does it have nothing to do with nudity at all? They just did not want to be objects, they did not want to feel looked at, they did not want us to violate their privacy. Nude or not was not the point. After all, when they were wearing their G-strings and were showing their “bare” buttocks – I put quotation marks now because it is my own Western bareness – they were not in the nude.
They are quite exceptional, this Filipino family visiting us straight from the Philippines. Mother and three children around 20 years of age, two sons and a daughter. It is true that one of the sons had heard about the nude beach, but, alas the day had been too short and cold for him to have enjoyed the “spectacle” – that is what it would have been for him, after all. I suggested visiting the sauna. That is a unique occasion to get to know the real Holland. Saunas in the part of the world are enjoyed without you having to wear clothes. And men and women are in the same space. He rather liked the idea. But then something unexpected happened. His sister showed a keen interest. And his mother actually would like to come along as well. And his brother of course. The latter was not the problem, but he got embarrassed over the fact that his sister and his mother would join. Actually, he did not want to come any more. But in the end we did go, albeit with the understanding that he would turn left after having passed the entrance, and we would turn right. Like this we would avoid one another a little bit, and he would have at least some privacy. Mother stayed home and thereby respected her younger son’s feeling.
This incident set me thinking. Have we suppressed our incest taboos and the feelings around it, and was it this that surfaced here? If not, what was it? I spoke to them again two years later, and the image of the sauna was still indelibly printed in their memory.
The other brother said it had indeed been the first time for him to see his sister in the nude. They turned out to be very “close” to one another in the sauna, just like a good brother and sister team can be. So, clothes or no clothes had not been anything of a hindrance. The girl especially had really enjoyed herself and was roaring to go if given the opportunity. The brother’s girlfriend for that matter who had not joined them to the Netherlands did not have any hang-ups.
Marvellous when people can be themselves to such an extent, and are not afraid to show it.
As I said before, Filipinos have never heard about naturism. At least not before they reach Holland. For my wife and myself it always is a kind of character test to see who will come along with us to our swim session and who will not. It turns out that politically progressive men recoil from it. So what is “progressive” after all?
It is clear that an open or a closed character does not correspond in that order with left and right on the political scale. Intellectuals tend to join, but there is no guarantee.
My initial thought had been that the title of this piece should be Bold, Bomba and Burlesque, in other words risqué, nude and vaudeville. Bomba, meaning just naked, a gem of a word as a matter of fact. Explosive naturism. Maybe I should have added to it: And Being Yourself, because that is what a human life is about too.
About the author
Menno IJzerdraat is a Dutch naturist who is married to a Filipina. He had been coming back and forth to the Philippines for the last 40 years.