Our European Colonizers Stank

Literally.

Filipinos are known to love bathing. We do it as frequently as possible, normally twice a day. Some people I know even go as far as bathing thrice daily during the summer! We have more shampoo and soap products and commercials than any other culture (that I know).

Since time immemorial, our ancestors have loved the act of bathing… which we can also attribute to our tropical climate and bountiful source of water. But we also love being clean and smelling good. We can smell body odor from a mile away. We’re sticklers when it comes to personal hygiene.

When the Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, the foreigners were aghast at how often we bathed, as they believed bathing (an opportunity to take off clothes,) can lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, disease, and sin.


Because of this belief, the Spanish (and Europeans in general) rarely bathed during the Middle Ages up until the 1800s. Hygiene is only restricted to washing hands, parts of the face and rinsing the mouths. Washing the face is even done as infrequently as possible for they believed it could lead to blindness.

They try to hide their stench with heavy perfumes, scented rags, or carrying fragrant herbs in their pockets.

European royalty were probably worse than the common peasants. A Russian ambassador who went to France described that King Louis XIV ‘stunk like a wild animal’. The Sun King is said to find the act of bathing ‘disturbing’, and has only bathed twice in his lifetime. Another royalty, Queen Isabela of Spain once boasted that she had bathed only twice in her life; first, when she was born and second, when she got married. Russia wasn’t so finicky when it came to bathing and did it far regularly–relatively speaking, once a month. Thus, Europeans thought Russians were perverts. (Source: Today I Found Out)

There are historical records showing that our ancestors thought the European colonizers stank. And we weren’t the only ones who thought so, too.

When the Spanish first arrived in mainland America headed by Hernan Cortes, it was still ruled by the Aztec Empire. It was the first time the Aztecs encountered a completely unknown people, much like they encountered an alien race for the first time.

The Aztecs did not know how to react–they are humans, but they had white skin, lots of facial hair, hair like the color of the sun, and they also stank horribly. In fact, Aztec natives assigned local incense burners to follow the foreigners around wherever they went. The Spaniards thought this was a mark of divine honor, but now we know from native sources that they just really found the foreigners’ smell unbearable. (Source: Sapiens, Harari)

At the least, the colonizers tried to change our local customs and beliefs as much as they could– but they never took away our love for good personal hygiene.

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16 thoughts on “Our European Colonizers Stank

  1. Wow! We can barely survive a day without bathing! The only exception is when we need to spend several days in a mountain; water is hard to come by. Even then, we grab every opportunity we can to wash up, from showering under a waterfall or swimming in a river.

    We can just imagine how horrible they must have smelled if they just doused themselves in perfume!

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  2. Different culture, different times, different beliefs, different practices and customs. I know it’s hard to fathom how one person could not bathe at least once a day, but it is what it is.

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  3. Oh yes I have heard this! It’s hard to believe that even the royalty hardly took showers. It is amazing how a different time and culture could produce such a difference in opinion. They were so advanced when it came to the arts and architecture, but seemed very superstitious when it came to something as simple as bathing. Although hearing this, I have so much respect for them and their culture. It is just surprising to see cultural differences.

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  4. Wow, that’s a really interesting post. I have never heard this before. As a European I would only bathe once a day, but probably because it’s so cold here most of the time!!

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  5. Hahaha, thats so funny, how do you thought of looking this up? I would never think about this. Anyways, it’s a good thing that our hygiene is so much better now. I don’t want to think about my fiancé not showering and sharing the same house hahaha. Good to know that the people from the Philippine are so clean. http://bit/ly/sofarsosabine

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    1. Haha! I actually was amused when I read about a former queen of Britain proudly saying she has never had a bathe in her life. I like weird tidbits of history and did further reading. Apparently it wasn’t so unusual back in the day!

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  6. It’s really amusing to know the different beliefs in different places having different cultures. Sometimes you’ll find others belief so odd. The Philippines has its own set of beliefs – a mixture of what we inherited from our ancestors and from the different colonizers that conquered us. But one thing I am glad, we Filipinos do have a good personal hygiene – regular bathing included – despite of the several school of thoughts we grew up with. Probably because of the very hot weather that we have.

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  7. Very informative article about bathing. I believe up to now, still a few caucasians take daily bath, partly it’s because of winter. Thanks to our climate, we responded rather naturally to personal hygiene.

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  8. In college i had classes about Japan and i remember teacher was talking about how high level of hygiene was back then, while Europeans almost never bathed. Now i realize it’s probably a thing in a whole Asia. 🙂
    As a European, i must say we’re not like that anymore haha (when it’s really hot i sometimes take a shower up to 5 times a day – which is not good also)

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