THE PHILIPPINES IS NOT ONLY RICH IN NATURAL RESOURCES BUT IS ALSO A VAST AND VERSATILE STOREHOUSE OF FOLK CULTURE STILL AWAITING THE LIGHT OF THE CRITIC’S EYES AND THE WIT OF JOURNALIST’S PEN. THE HARDY MOUNTAIN TRIBES IN NORTHERN LUZON AND THOSE IN OTHER REGIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES HAVE A MOST UNIQUE AND COLORFUL ARTISTIC TRADITION. AND MOST OF IT HAS BEEN PASSED ON FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION OVER THE CENTURIES. THERE ARE MANY OTHER TATTOOED PEOPLES ALL OVER SOUTHEAST ASIA AND IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO READ A COMPARATIVE STUDY ON THEIR RESPECTIVE AESTHETIC WORKS, A TALL ORDER FOR FUTURE SCHOLARLY STUDIES.
In the Philippines, the mountain tribes in Northern Luzon are among the most talented early artists. Perhaps, the utterly peaceful and meditative atmosphere deep in the isolated mountains where they live is largely responsible for their highly creative culture.
THE ART OF TATTOOING: was and in some cases, still is — very prevalent amongst the mountain tribes. In the so-called “INTERIOR” or heartland of this mountainous territory, it is rarely possible to find a man or woman who has never been tattooed. However, the practice is rapidly disappearing as many of these people are now discarding their old traditions in favor of the new.
MAGIC AND STATUS SYMBOLISM
It is widely believed that women undergo tattooing on their legs, arms, and breasts to enhance their beauty. The men folk, on the other hand, do so to mark age, bravery, tribal seniority, and more frequently, to underscore the prestige gained in headhunting expeditions. In certain tribes, it is claimed that some tattoos have “MAGICAL” qualities and, in these cases, designs of scorpions, centipedes, snakes and boats are often repeated. In a few instance, tattoos are considered a curative for physical defects. By covering up the unsightly deformity, birthmark or growth with tattoos, the mountain tribes believe that the scars would automatically vanish. Among the sun-worshipping tribes of central Benguet in Luzon’s Mountain Province, the tattoos come in exquisite patterns of curved and straight lines. Its designs are in indigo blue and are poked on the breasts and arms of this art’s ardent devotees.
TATTOOS AS HABERDASHERY
Tattoos among the diverse tribes differ in pattern, cultural motivation and interpretation. In some cases, the full significance of a tattoo cannot be derived without viewing it in relation to the wearer’s ornaments and garments. Sometimes, an elaborate tattoo completely takes the place of a blouse. For instance, the BUKIK Igorots would tattoo their entire upper torsos, giving them the unusual appearance of wearing a coat of mail. They assert that without this adornment, they would be naked. Similarly, among the “PINTADOS” — Inhabitants of the Visayas so named by the Spaniards — it is customary to tattoo the whole body from a very tender age. It is believed that the sooner a child undergoes the operations, the greater would be his capacity to endure the pain and discomfort that it causes. Because pf the extent and rich elaboration of their tattooing, it is only necessary for the “PINTADOS” to wear a strip of bark clothe or cotton in the manner of a g-string.
The actual method of tattooing is, more or less, the same among all tribes. Only the ingredients and the meanings differ. The operator, usually a man, first besmears the area of skin that is to be tattooed with a mixture of soot and sugarcane juice. Where no sugarcane is available, substitutes, such as lard, gall or hen’s excrement are used. He then pokes the skin with a needle or pointed instrument in the design or practice of his tribe.
Tattooing instruments vary from tribe to tribe. The PINTADOS for example, would use sharp metal instruments that have been previously heated over fire. The KANKANAY tribe from Central Benquet would use a small piece of wood that they call “gisi” attached to which are three iron points. The IFUGOA, on the other hand, would use an instrument made entirely of iron with two or three points. The KALINGA would use five needles at the same time. The ISNEG from Apayao Province would use a very different and far more elaborate instrument that they call “igihisi”. It is made from a curved piece of rattan. At one end, four or five pins are attached. A string then connects the central part of the instrument to both ends. During the actual procedure, the operator would continually beat the curve next to the pins, on its convex side, in order to push these pins deeper into the skin.
The process of tattooing is and extremely painful ordeal. After the operation, the area tattooed usually swells up for several weeks. A patient can only endure tattooing in small installments and thus it would normally take several months before the entire tattoo is completed. Before tattoos are “awarded” to the HEADHUNTER, it can take years, oftentimes two or more successful headhunting expeditions. Among “PINTADOS”, the tattoos themselves are extremely elaborate and could even take the form of illuminated paintings and tableaux. A versatile array of designs and forms are used. Only the wrists and the feet are left bare. After the operation, soot or black powder is pressed onto the scar which, when dried, can never be erased. The “PINTADOS” women tattoo only their hands.
Among the men folk of the IBALOI tribe of southern Benguet tattooing is now rare but the Ibaloi mummies prove that they use to practice full body suits of tattooing. There tattoos like all individuals getting tattooed in the islands differed according to their own whims and although they have similar framework the tattoos are not common in stories. The IBALOI women, on the other hand, would adorn their arms from above the elbow down to their knuckles with elaborate and extensive tattoos made up of criss-cross, horizontal, vertical and curved-line elements. So extensive in this form of tattooing, in fact, that it is extremely hard to distinguish the skin beneath it.
The KANKANAY tribe, who live in the mountainous triangle between Ilocos Sur, Benguet and Bontoc Provinces, use much the same methods of tattooing as the IBALOI. Among the men, tattoos are very similar to that of the IBALOI body suits. Among the women, it is frequently seen on their forearms just like that of the IBALOI women.
IFUGAO TATTOO MOTIFS
The male IFUGAO, on the other hand, would tattoo most of his whole body. An older IFUGAO would have himself tattooed on his chest, arms, legs, neck and shoulders but will not tattoo his face, buttocks or feet. The younger Ifugao, however, would tattoo only his neck and upper chest. The main designs most frequently found among the Ifugao are (1) the “tagu” (man) on the center of the chest; (2) the “kinahu” (dog), Also on the chest, but occasionally on the cheeks; (3) the “ginawang” (eagle), on the chest and shoulders; (4) the “ginayaman” (centipede), all over; and (5) the “kinilat” (lightning) on the neck, shoulders and lower chest. Various designs of grass plants are popular and can be found on the neck, throat, forehead, hands, arms and thighs. One strange leaf patterns that is a re-occurring motif on the forearms of the Ifugao men. It cannot be found among the people of any other Philippine tribe. It continues on… (From the book FILIPINO HERITAGE 1974)