“If you play with dirty carabao, then you will be dirty too.”
The informant is a vibrant, friendly invidual, who lives by his Filipino proverbs and typically uses them as part of his daily speech. After telling me about the discussions he has with his teenage daughter about personal life issues, he recited this one in particular. He mentioned it was difficult for him to tell his daughter about bad influences/friendships without sounding negative. In this case, using this proverb seemed to be the best choice for him due to its subtle tone and interesting reference to the indigenous water buffalo. He claims that by using proverbs as a source of guidance, his daughter does not disregard his advice entirely.
I remember hearing the same proverb from my father, who is also of Philippine descent. He performed this if he suspected mischievous behavior, or if he thought my friends were bad influences. It seems indigenous to a part of the Philippines called Ilocos Norte (up North of Philippines), which is a place characterized by rural living even to this day after modernization. Interestingly, the national animal of the Philippines is the carabao. As a dog is recognized as man’s best friend, Filipinos see carabao as their faithful partners in life. In rural areas, farmers rely on the carabaos’ mechanical work and cooperation to get work done. In this case, a dirty, or unproductive, carabao, would slow down farm production. In relation to friendships, it can also symbolize the impediment of an individual to develop towards maturity. Therefore, it seems reasonable to use the animal as a symbol to teach individuals about forming relationships and personal development.