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Filipino Tattoos

Page history last edited by Jasmine Ines 15 years, 1 month ago
Old Lubo Warrior, his tattoo is an abstract of an outstretched eagle

Traditional Filipino tattoos are known by different names depending on which tribe, region, or province visited. It's common name in scholarly articles is either batek or batok, but it is also called fatek, fatok, and patik which all derive from the sound of the tattooing instruments hitting one another. In my Wiki article, I am focusing on the tattooed Kalinga villages near the Cordillera Mountains, in Northern Luzon.


Tattoo Artists and Their Tools

The traditional Filipino tattoo artist is called a mambabatok or manbatek which are the same term, but come from Filipino different dialects. There is currently two scholars who differ in their claims on documenting the last remaining manbateks. Tattoo anthropologist, Lars Krutak, claims 89 year old woman Whang Od of Buscalan is that last remaining Kalinga artist. However, current Oxford scholar Analyn Ikin V. Salvador-Amores names Lakay

Photo of Whang Od

Jacob Angngana (Lakay translates to elder) who is also from Kalinga as the oldest manbatek "reportedly over a hundred years old." Lakay Jacob has since retired due to his poor eye sight hindering his work. However Whang Od's 11-year old niece has shown interest in learning the craft of being a manbatek to continue the practice, although Whang is unsure her niece possess the skills necessary to learn and practice batek.


The tools of the manbatek are the gisi and the pat-ik. The gisi was traditionally made of the horn of a carabou that was bent over fire so it created a right angle with the point facing downward. Four needle were attached to the tip of the gisi which were either made of orange or lemon thorns. The pat-ik, which translates to stick, was used to hit the gisi onto the skin. The ink, merteka, was made of a mixture of soot and water. Usually, the manbatek used a coconut shell to hold the soot-water ink, but other objects were used depending on what was available or preferred.

Lakay used the gisi and pat-ik described above to create all his batek. However, Whang uses a different gisi made of bamboo with only one orange thorn needle attached to it. She does mention that her father (who taught her the arts of being a manbatek) did use the traditional gisi when he taught her.


Elder Kalinga Woman Showing off her batek

Kalinga Batek

The Kalinga batek can be described as being symmetrical and elaborate in design. It was traditionally a common practice within the warrior group in the Cordilleras, especially among head hunters. They represented male valor like modern day military medals. What the tattoos signify is a mystery to natives as well as scholars since tattoosing has been around since pre-colonial times. Appo Anno, a Filipino mummy, was returned to the Nation Museum by collectors in 1999 and is the oldest known Filipino body containing batek on his fingertips, wrists, toes, legs, buttocks, back and chest. However, its origin and identity and explanation of tattoos remains unknown.



Fanah, getting his batek from Whang

While the tradition of tattooing is no longer practiced, the last documented person to get batek from a manbatek is an elder named Fanah who was tattooed in 2009 by Whang Od. She offered him the warrior batek when she learned of him killing three other men from a rival tribe to avenge an elder they killed from his village. The lastest warrior tattoos given during to warring Kalingas or guerilla warriors during WWII.

Batek was also used to acknowledge different rites of passage important in Kalinga culture. One example is the rite of pregnancy/childbirth. Before a woman gets married a small "x" was placed between her eyes, on each cheek, and on her nose. It was used to confuse evil spirits who looked to kill or sicken children. Another rite marks the beginning of adolescence. After learning to hunt successfully by themselves and participating in headhunts, young men were given batek on they chest and on the lower part of their upper arm. Women were given centipede batek on their arms around their first menstration. It was unacceptable for girls not to have arm batek after their first menstration, and men would spit of their hands and rub them on their batek-free arms in protest. One of their most important rites is the incorporation of the warrior. Warriors are given these tattoos to denote their number of kills at battle, and their community's acknowlegement of their courage, strength, and virility.


Filipino Tattoo Revival

In Kalinga, then and now, batek is only allowed to those deemed a "rightful person," someone who had earned or deserves the marking. However, there has been a recent revival of traditional Filipino tattoos making it a popular tattoo genre within the younger Filipino generations especially within the Filipino-American diasporas. More information on batek's impact on comtemporary society will be covered by Mark Anthony. It should be acknowledged that traditional batek was also used as a sign of beauty, fertility, and as a talisman against evils. As a result, both men and women could each be heavily tattooed. 


Below you can access more links to Filipino tattoo sites and videos. Some scholarly and some not so scholarly. (Apparently, Wiki doesn't follow normal HTML or xHTML rules, so just click on the names below to follow a link.) 


Lars Krutak: Tattoo Anthropologist website

Batek: Traditional Tattoos and Identities in Contemporary Kalinga, North Luzon Philippines PDF to Analyn Ikin V. Salvador-Amores' thesis

Slideshow of Traditional and Contemporary Tattoos YouTube video (note: annoying soundtrack)

The Philippine Tattoo Revival Lars Krutak article

Willam Henry Scott (Historian) Wiki Page on the most concise and documented pre-colonial Filipino historian, and whose books have been the most helpful in my research


More Bibliography

Krutak, Lars. The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women. Bennett & Bloom, London, England, 2007.

Scott, William Henry. Barangay. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Manila, Philippines, 1994.

Scott, William Henry. On the Cordillera. MCS Enterprises, INC., Manila, 1966.


My Research Paper: Research papel.docx

Comments (3)

Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse said

at 10:29 pm on Jun 2, 2009

Jasmine - You should load up your paper as well under the bibliography. A great essay on the practices.

Mark Anthony said

at 5:40 pm on Jun 3, 2009

Very good, I thought the presentation hit on all bases of the Philippine tattoos. It was such a hard topic to cover since, generally we're talking about a country composed of a lot of islands--not so much collective in a sense where one could easily classify the word 'culture' let alone 'Filipino' all under one roof, as would for mainland China or something else to that extent. So, with that said, there is a large degree of divergence on a followed set of tattoo beliefs when it comes to the Philippines, despite their rather similar designs and origins. If anything, it seems appropriate to speculate that perhaps Philippine tattoos aren't really Philippine in origin, but an evolution as a result of borrowed cultures from other areas--hence the similarities with others in the same area And, as you've pointed out, Filipinos, despite the large population who regard themselves as Catholic and religious--are still quite superstitious, so that may also have played an important motivation on the development of tattoos over time.

marcyj@u.washington.edu said

at 10:45 pm on Jun 3, 2009

i think it's interesting the idea of x's placed on the face to keep harm from befalling children. How did such a strange custom arise?

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