A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


An Uncircumcised Heathen - An Epiphany
Thursday, January 01, 2009

I have written here before of my Filipino heritage. My mother was born in Manila. Some of our relatives are Filipino/Chinese with the surname Roxas. One of them, Manuel Roxas was the first president of the Philippines in 1946. My grandmother would often talk to my mother in Tagalog in my presence when I was a little boy to keep their conversations private. They knew I had a keen ear. By some osmosis of sorts I managed to learn some Tagalog and in particular the words that are useful.

In Vancouver we are lucky to have the Goldilocks bakery (Broadway at Fir) which features not only Filipino breads, cakes, desserts and food but such wonderful stuff as Magnolia macapuno ice cream. This is a coconut ice cream made from a sport of the coconut palm (some say it is a disease) harvested, primarily in the Philippines. They are sold in jars as "gelatinous mutant coconut" cut into balls or strands. In a macapuno coconut the water and the meat do not separate and they are one gelatinous mass. These coconuts are thrown away just about anywhere else. I have prevented Mexicans boys serving me an ice cold coconut at beaches in Acapulco, Veracruz and Isla Mujeres from throwing my chosen fruit away when they saw the nasty looking gelatine inside. It is delicious. My uncle Don Luís Miranda who worked for San Miguel Beer and Magnolia created the macapuno ice cream flavour. It is straight from heaven.

At Goldilocks I like to purchase Filipino shortbread called polvorones and a wonderful puffy bread called ensaymadas (from Spain via the Philippines). At Goldilocks the procedure is to place your order on a small sheet of paper with a small pencil that is provided (did Lee Valley copy them?). When I first started going to Goldilocks I would write Suput as my name. When my paper was picked there was a lot of stammering and or silence involved when the women behind the counters (they wear hair nets) tried to figure out who the male of the species responsible for the joke was.

In late 1967, shortly before I married Rosemary, I lived in Mexico City with an urbane Filipino, Raúl Guerrero Montemayor (first cousin to Ivette Mimiuex). Raúl is godfather to my youngest daughter Hilary. One of Raúl's friends, Nonong, was the playboyish son of Manuel L Quezon the first Filipino president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines under U.S. occupation rule in the early period of the 20th century. We became friends and he gave me the nickname of Suput. Even my eldest daughter's godfather, my Yorkshire-born friend Andrew Taylor calls me by that nickname to this day.

Now in Tagalog suput means literally tight but it also means uncircumcised. In a country that has been mostly Catholiic since Magellan but also Muslim, to be suput is to be unclean. It is a serious Filipino insult. You can imagine what goes through the minds of the Filipina women with their hairnets when they see my nickname. They know me now so they just giggle when they see me and ask me what I want. They have another nickname for me, Andong, which is a much cleaner and it is a re-working of Alexander.

Since I was raised as a Catholic and I went to a very good Catholic school, St. Edward's in Austin, Texas I know that today is the Feast of the Circumcision. It is a feast that is fairly low in the order of Catholic feasts. A much more important feast is the one that falls on January 6. At the Epiphany, the visit by the Magi on the infant Jesus has a tremendous symbolic and religious importance. God had made an exclusive contract with the Israelites of the Old Testament. By the simple act of having the Magi (no matter how regal they might have been they were still unclean, uncircumcised heathens) visit the manger it represented a new order of things, the New Testament. Not only the Israelites but all baptized mankind (the males could be either circumcised or not) now had the opportunity to sit on the right hand of God in heaven.

The heathen above is a self portrait taken mid December 2008 with b+w Polaroid.


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