One of the last known “kept maidens” or “binukot” of the Iloilo region of the Philippines has died at the age of 73.
Rosita Caballero spent her childhood in total isolation — never leaving her family home or even seeing the sun — until her wedding day.
This tradition, practised by the Panay Bukidnon tribe, results in frail, fine-complexioned and long-haired women who can command a higher dowry from future suitors.
It is also a means of passing on tribal knowledge. During her years of seclusion, the binukot would be taught the legends, songs and dances of the tribe by her elder relatives.
This knowledge would give the binukot a high status — almost akin to royalty — in the tribe, reflected by the fact that she would be carried on a hammock to make sure her feet didn’t touch the ground.
Indeed, according to anthropologist Nancy Deocades, who studied the practice, one binukot said that her feet bled when she first tried to walk on the ground.
Despite this frailty, they are expected to master the tribe’s ‘binanog dance’, which closely imitates the movements of the hawk and puts the woman firmly in charge. The male partner is expected to follow the steps of the woman.
The practice is believed to persist in some remote villages, but has increasingly fallen out of favour due to the expense and suggestions that it amounts to child abuse.
Mrs Caballero became ill several weeks ago. At first her family thought she had stomach-ache from eating too much pineapple, but they later discovered she had kidney stones, a gallbladder rupture and hepatitis.
Her death on July 23 was announced this week, just days before the country is set to mark National Indigenous People’s Day on August 9.