Friday, February 23Not Your Ordinary English-Tagalog Dictionary

What is Water Dipper in Tagalog? Origin of the Filipino Bidet

The water dipper in Tagalog is called “tabo,” but this translation is weak since it’s more than a dipper. This is mainly because the plastic tabo is not common in the US and Europe. Aside from the Philippines, this Filipino version of the bidet is also mostly seen in other Southeast Asian countries including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. 

water dipper in tagalog
Timba at tabo in the Philippines

The tabo is a very common bathroom tool in the Philippines used for getting water for various reasons. This includes bathing, hand washing, toilet cleaning, and laundry. Traditionally, Filipinos use tabo with water to clean themselves after using the toilet, instead of using toilet paper. This Filipino bidet is usually placed inside or near the pail (timba). 

However, this traditional use of tabo in the toilet is not so appealing to non-Asian countries including Australia. Back in 2009, an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) in Australia was fired from his job for not using toilet paper. Instead, he used a water bottle as tabo for his personal hygiene. His act was then dubbed as “a serious health risk.” 

Filipinos have been using the tabo even during the pre-colonial period. At that time, they use coconut shells with a bamboo handle to get small amounts of water. Ancient Filipinos place it at the entrance of their houses, next to a water jar. Visitors will then wash their hands and feet using the tabo with water before entering the house. 

When the Spaniards arrived, the tabo was called sartin, which came from the Spanish word “sarten.” According to Filipino historian Lito Nunag, the sources of water were far away at that time. Therefore, Filipinos need to stand up just to wash their hands before eating. To help save time and effort, they use the tabo with water and pass it to each other. 

Ironically, Nunag added that it was the Americans who introduced the plastic tabo to the Filipinos. And although it is a bathroom essential, many Filipino households use a separate tabo as a measuring tool for water. Some tabo are large, but an average-sized tabo usually holds one liter of water. They also come in various colors.

Use tabo in a sentence.


Napakamot sa ulo ang kamag-anak kong Amerikano nung nakita niya ang tabo sa banyo namin.


My American relative scratched his head when he saw the water dipper in our bathroom.

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