The precolonial Philippine tattoo designs were mostly abstract and geometric forms. And it is believed that these tattoos were more than ornamental — they were sacred and held meaning and purpose to each regional tattoo practitioner across the islands. The Chest tattoo is a Sampaguita design tattoo (it’s not actually a sun tattoo, its actually a flower tattoo which is very similar to the Bornean Tattoo) The Sword is an Ilonggo blade which is the “Ginunting” the hilt design which mimics a Beast head is inspired by one of the Ginunting images which you can find it on “Filipino History.
Getting a Buscalan tattoo from Apo Whang-Od? Here’s what I learned about Kalinga tattoo meanings in this weekend trip from Buscalan to Sagada.
Traditional Visayan Tattoo design by Akopito on DeviantArt Patik, Batik or Batok, the Marking of snake, lizard or any other design, to learn more about the Pattern click here:akopito.weebly.com/1/post/2014 Traditional Visayan Tattoo design. May 07, 2010 Lutong Bisaya Lutong Bisaya is a blog about cooking styles of Michael 'Ige' Emano. Friday, May 7, 2010. RICE DAGHAN(Pangpista,Birthday,Kasal, etc) Nov 25, 2004 The Visayans were one of the tribes in the Philippines, said to be the most civilized of the tribes. Filipino Tribal Tattoo Designs Filipino tattoos are very decorative and complex in some of their designs, especially when it is tribal oriented. For those of you of who want to get the tribal designs made, the best thing to do would be to have extensive research done on which patterns speak specifically of the Filipino kind.
Two things I want to be when I’m older: to be wrinkled and inked.
We never planned on getting a Kalinga tattoo. Microsoft stack bluetooth. “Just because we’re going to Buscalan doesn’t mean we have to get tattoos,” we had said weeks ago. But on the very long drive to the home of Apo Whang-Od, we knew we probably won’t come back again soon.
By the end of our Buscalan to Sagada trip, our skins were forever marred by soot and blood from a Kalinga mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist). But there were no regrets. This was a much-awaited trip that gave us more than inks on our skins.
So if you’re wondering what to expect from a Buscalan trip and a getting a Kalinga tattoo like us, read on.
Leaving late at around 10 PM, we traveled from Manila to Buscalan where the traffic delayed in our itinerary for 6 hours. The road to Tinglayan, Buscalan not for the faint-hearted — it involves hours enduring zigzag roads and dangerous mountain-side ravines that require skilled drivers to navigate. There are no shortcuts or direct flights here, so there’s really no other choice.
By sunset, we arrived at the jump-off point and commenced the short but steep climb to the Buscalan Tattoo Village. The path is cemented and staired, but it gave our knees and hearts a challenge. Along the way, we saw water streams, eroded soil, and trees. It was past nightfall once we got to our homestay, after seeing so many black pigs and children along the narrow paths.
Exhausted and hungry from the ride-and-hike, we were greeted by a thermos of Kalinga coffee and the cool Buscalan weather warmed by a bonfire of our homestay. Our home-cooked dinner did not disappoint (somehow, food always tastes better when in the mountains). We bathed in cold water and slept on floor mattresses, a welcome opportunity to rest.
By sunrise, the day for getting a Kalinga tattoo finally came.
We descended into a nipa hut where two lady mambabatoks were at. Their names are Rhenalyn and Rhea. Though not the direct bloodline of tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od, I recommend them for first-timers like me. Their Kalinga tattoo patterns are clean, and their touch is light. Plus they change thorns per person. Sometimes, tourists have their Kalinga tattoos done by another mambabatok and have Apo Whang Od put her signature.
I requested to have my tattoo at my left inner arm. My chosen Kalinga tattoo design was called “prayer”, which looks like a community with a mountain range backdrop. Having had a tattoo before, the pain was more tolerable — but the position of my tattoo is on tender flesh. The “prayer” design wasn’t too intricate so it took me only around 30-minutes to finish. At a certain point, my ears rang from the constant drumming of the torn and almost lulled me to sleep.
After getting my Buscalan tattoo, we descended to the nipa hut of Apo Whang-Od. What greeted us were long lines and people arguing who should go first to take photos with the elder tattoo artist — at PHP 50 per person.
The commercialism was a bit disappointing, but I guess that’s how it goes for popular tourist spots.
Batok is a thousand-year tattooing tradition that is a bit more painful than modern methods. The ink used for Kalinga tattoo is made from indigenous materials. Inside a coconut shell is charcoal mixed with water inside pierced into the skin with a sharp thorn needle from a calamansi tree. The first bamboo stick is used for holding the thorn in place, the other is used to tap the first to pierce the skin.
A mambabatok often displays a wooden plank of Kalinga tattoo designs for visitors to choose from. These are symbolic tribal designs that are taken from nature, such as serpents, eagles, snakes, centipedes, and ferns. Perhaps the most traditional design is the lingling-o, which looks like the omega sign (or headphones, actually), meaning fertility. The fern tattoo is pretty popular with the ladies.
Some Kalinga tattoo meanings are more modern such as symbols for a “traveler”, “compass”, “prayer”, and even the arrow. Rhea and Rhenalyn even offered curved designs of “faith, hope, love” which I think is hardly tribal (it comes with a heart shape!).
Some of these Kalinga tattoo patterns are linear or circular. For linear ones, these are usually placed around the wrists, legs, or arms. Circular ones are commonly placed at the back of the neck or the forearm.
The artist is often as fascinating as the art. Apo Whang-Od is almost synonymous to the traditional Kalinga tattoo art, being considered the last mambabatok. At more than 100 years old, she still wields a strong hand for her craft. She has been tattooing the Butbut people of Kalinga since she was 15.
The mambabatok celebrates the victories of men and beautify women by tattooing, chanting, and fortune-telling. “Fatok” means tattooing women to show beauty and wealth, and the artist is paid with a piglet or harvested rice. “Fi-ing” means tattooing male warriors, as a badge of honor for protecting villages from enemies. Nowadays, there are no more headhunters to be tattooed.
Due to the long lines and the handful of tourists daily, Apo Whang-Od rarely does full-on Kalinga tattoos, let alone chant or do fortune-telling. Instead, she inscribes her signature consisting of three dots — symbolizing herself and her apprentices and grandnieces Grace Palicas and Ilyang Wigan. Though notorious to have lovers, Apo Whang-Od does not have a direct descendant.
Many say that she is the last mambabatok in the Philippines, though there are many tattoo artists not from her bloodline that are emerging. Perhaps it’s a form of tokenism or commercialism, but Apo Whang-Od’s choice to continue tattooing has helped preserve the thousand-years-old art. Millennials and foreigners alike remain mystified about it.
When it comes to deciphering Kalinga tattoo meanings, it can be quite confusing as the tattoo artists themselves have adopted English and easily understandable names for each design. One has to do deeper research to truly understand what each symbol meant. It is recommended to read the book “Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern” by Lane Wilcken.
The following illustrations are from the Headhuntr page. Check out their merchandise:
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