{ Review } ~ Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern by Lane Wilcken

Today’s review is away from makeup (for now at least ha), and into Pilipin@ related books. Now I actually bought this book a few years back and I bought it along with Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teaching From the Philippine Ancestral Traditions by Virgil Mayor Apostol. These two were the first Pilipin@ cultural books I bought and what helped me in my own self discovery of who I am as a Pilipina-American. 

I talked a little bit on the book on my blog post when I first received it. However this will be an in depth review of the book meant for those who have been looking into buying the book and what to expect.


There are 8 chapters in the book, with endnotes, a glossary, forewords, testimonials, acknowledgements, and of course an introduction to the book and of tattooing in the Philippines. The 8 chapters are:

Chapter 1: Early Accounts and Fragments of Philippine Tattoo Culture
Chapter 2: The Tattoo Process and Tools
Chapter 3: Reasons for Tattooing
Chapter 4: Facial Tattooing
Chapter 5: Spiritual Aspects of Tattooing
Chapter 6: Shared Tattooing Motifs with Pacific Isles
Chapter 7: A Selection of Filipino Tattooing Motifs
Chapter 8: Modern Filipino Tattooing

First thing that I liked about the book was the many rich color photos in the book to give the reader a more eye catching experience especially for those of us who are more of a visual reader. The author provides many photos and illustrations to showcase the tattoos along with his explanations of them.


Illustrations depicting the Pintados aka the Bisayans from the Boxer Codex, circa 1590 (left) and of a Bisayan warrior from Francisco Alcina’s Historia de las Islas e Indios de Bisayas, 1668. (right)


In chapter one Lane briefly discusses what we have of the early accounts and records of the tattooing traditions of the Philippines from the early Spaniards. One of the most remarkable depiction of early tattooing is of the illustration in the Boxer Codex c. 1590 of the Bisayans, or who the Spaniards called, the Pintados, or the “Painted Ones”. The name was associated with the Bisayans for their bold and elaborate tattoos that both fascinated and placed fear the Spaniards. He mentions the Ilokanos tattooing based on records from Francisco Colin in his book, Labor Evangelica 1663 and how more than likely the Ilokano abel (weaving) patterns were once patterns used in their tattooing before it was discontinued. He then goes into a man name Jeoly, or Prince Giolo, who was bought as a slave with his mother by English privateer, William Dampier for the intention to be used a human display for profit in exhibitions for his tattoos. He however sadly died of smallpox after a few appearances, a result of Europe’s sick human circuses, especially of the people they colonized. Jeoly was from the island of Miangas, a small island about 75 miles east of the Sarangani Islands of the Philippines. He is included in our tattoo history however as even though Miangas now belongs to Indonesia it was originally a part of the Philippines prior to the Spanish-American War.

In chapter two is information on the tattooing process and tools used. Most of this is info from the Cordillera such as the Kalinga and Bontoc. He discusses how the ink is prepared with the variations of names and how the people across the Pacific have a similar way preparing their ink and tools. He provides images and illustrations of the tools and ink and also talks about the method of tattooing by Apo Whang Od.

Chapter 3 is one of my favorite chapters as it goes into why we tattoo and the reasons of getting one. He describes an Isneg legend of the origin of tattooing which I found very interesting. He talks about how men earned their tattoos for honor and prestige and a way to showcase their manhood and of being a strong warrior. How getting your first tattoo was a rite of passage and were like badges to tell people how brave you were. In the chapter are information and photos of a few mummies discovered in the Philippines showcasing ancestors who are covered in beautiful, intricate tattoos that have been preserved on their skin. He then goes on to the tattoo’s of women and how they earned their tattoo’s. Unlike men, women didn’t have to kill to earn their tattoo’s but were a symbol and marks of beauty, to ward of evil spirits, who reached puberty, and who were ready for marriage.


He mentions how some specific tattoo motifs represent the fertility of the land and of women. One part I particularly liked was this passage in the book.

From these examples we learn what tattooing meant for these women. They were seen as not only more beautiful, but also possessing emotional and physical fortitude to endure pain and hardship, including the pain of childbirth. A woman’s tattooing was an affirmation of her strength and inherent spiritual power, procreative endowment, and as a form of clothing, an enhancement of beauty and a proclamation of her status. Finally, the tattoos were a form of recognition that allowed the soul of a woman to pass into the afterlife and join the glorious chain of her ancestors.


Facial tattooing is written about next and here we see comparisons of the facial tattooing of the Philippines and across the Pacific. It’s a very short chapter but Lane gives a good illustration of a Bisayan langi face tattoo that was described by Francisco Colin in his Labor Evangelica 1663.

…they did tattoo the chins and about the eyes [barbas y cejas].

A long with the description by Colin is the actual word langi described by the Spanish as meaning “gaping like a crocodile or bird of prey. Where as “bangut" meant muzzle or halter. He ends off the chapter with how the face and head was the most sacred part of the body and how a great deal of respect and acknowledgement was given to those who were able to receive facial tattoos as not only did these facial tattoos prove that they were one of the strongest but because the head was the location of the spirit and our connection with the ancestors.

The last few sentences of chapter 4 leads us up to chapter 5 of the spiritual aspects of tattooing. As someone who practices our old precolonial, indigenous beliefs prior to the arrival of the Spaniards and Christianity, I found this chapter all the more appealing. He talks about how tattoos were an important rite of passage not just in ones everyday life but as a passage to the afterlife. If one wasn’t tattooed their ancestors would not recognize them when they passed away and wouldn’t accept them. Some tattoo motifs represent symbols of the afterlife and connection with the ancestors such as water, pythons, and crocodiles. He talks a bit of the importance of these symbols and their connections and why they were represented in tattoos across the Philippines. He also discusses the anito, the ancestral spirits and how our ancestors worshiped them and payed their tributes to them through offerings and rituals. The placement of some tattoos also held great spiritual importance which Lane discusses in great detail.


Chapter 6 discusses the motifs shared throughout the Pacific and how we shares motifs that though they may be the same design, they either have the same meaning or some with slightly different meanings. He talks about the various bird, centipede, crab, canoe, and other motifs shared throughout the Pacific and their meanings within the groups of the Philippines and others from Samoa to Tonga.


Next up is motifs specifically found within the Philippines.  These motifs include motifs depicting the aso (dog), snake tongues, those representing the mountains, rivers, hawk, lightning, scorpion, human figures representing the ancestors, and others. Some of these motifs are only to be worn be doing a specific deed and as such must not be tattooed just because you want it.

Then we have our final chapter discussing modern Pilipin@ tattooing with the typical Philippines flag design, 3 stars and the sun, and recently the incorporation of Baybayin tattoo’s. Another popular symbol that is tattooed is the lingling-o tattoo which I personally have on my left wrist, to symbolize fertility especially among women.


(picture taken when I first got my tattoo and it was being healed)

The book is fantastic and I find it is a good beginner reference book to those who are interested in learning about the tattooing traditions of the Philippines and how it is an important cultural practice. One thing I felt was lacking however and was a bit disappointed in was the lack of info on the other tattooing traditions throughout the Philippines. I felt it focused more on the Northern, Cordillera traditions and didn’t go into the tattooing of the Bisayas and of Mindanao. I wished he covered the other tattooing traditions especially for those of us who are not Ilokano or from the Cordillera. 

The author does go into depth with the different tattoo motifs in the Philippines as well as the rest of South East Asia and Polynesia and explains the meanings and cultural ties that links the whole Austronesian-Polynesian cultures. He compares shared myths and creation stories, beliefs, tattoo motifs, etc. that are slightly different from culture to culture as the migration of the Austronesians moved downward from the aborigines of Taiwan to South East Asia to the islands in the Pacific. He also explains the spiritual beliefs of the Austronesian family, such as the belief in ancestral spirits, the connection with certain animals and the ancestors such as the snake/pythons, crocodiles, to the messengers of the ancestors such as the birds. This comparison I know some people might find annoying as it’s not just “Pilipin@ tattooing” but others. However I personally found this helpful not because it showcases the history between the people of the Philippines with those of the Pacific but how we share a tattooing culture that dates back many, many years. I find that in order to rediscover our tattooing traditions it helps to learn from those who share the same practice with similar methods, motifs, terms, etc. and see our commonality between the Austronesian cultures.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the tattooing traditions of the Philippines. Is it an encyclopedia of all the tattoo motifs? No and Lane doesn’t claim his book as one. But it is a stepping stone for those who are really interested and will take their research further through looking at the historical documents and going into the rural places of the Philippines where they still practice traditional tattooing. There are a few things he could have improved on in regards to information I believe however overall the book itself is an excellent read and packed with information for any tattoo enthusiast.

Where to Buy the Book?:  Amazon
Pricing: $28.26 on Sale. Original Price $40.00






Manilakbayan 2014
Mendiola, Manila
November 24, 2014

MANILA — Some 600 marchers, many of them travelled all the way from Mindanao, protested Nov. 24 at the foot of Mendiola bridge, calling for President Aquino’s ouster, saying that he had failed to stop the militarization, human rights violations and destruction of the environment in the island.

The protesters came 300-strong, from the different regions of Mindanao, and had travelled since Nov. 13 in a campaign called the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2014. They were called the “Lakbayanis,” coined from the two Filipino words “lakbay” (travel) and “bayani” (hero).

“After a long journey from our home in Mindanao, we finally arrive here, at the foot of the seat of power of the “busaw” president and his “busaw” soldiers and their US masters,” said Hanimay Suazo, secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region. “Busaw” is Cebuano for “monster.”

The Mindanaoans are calling for a pull-out of military troops in schools and communities, a stop to other human rights violations against progressive groups and their leaders, and the destructive mining by foreign companies. The protesters are also against the presence of US troops in the country. and the defense agreements which allow this.

“Walay hustisya, walay kalinaw (No justice, no peace),” said Suazo. “The people of Mindanao, with the people of Luzon and Visayas, are united in ousting Aquino and defeating Oplan Bayanihan,” she said.

The Mindanao protesters, who were mostly Lumads, are not only trying to make people aware of the problems they face, they also bring with them their indigenous rituals and traditions which foster community spirit and unity against a common problem. A rhythmic beating of the ganza signalled their arrival along Recto Avenue as the Lumads marched in in their scarlet traditional wear, while the others had “tubaos” on their heads.

At the corner of Morayta and Recto avenues, the protesters from Mindanao were welcomed and joined by some 300 members of progressive groups from Metro Manila, among them lawmakers of the Makabayan coalition, peasant, women, human rights and youth groups.

Earlier in the morning, the Lakbayanis who spent overnight at the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran along with activists from the Southern Tagalog region, first held a protest in front of the US embassy along Roxas boulevard, where the Lumad leaders took turns spitting chewed betel nut on a US flag.

There was a brief clash with anti-riot police, where Joseph Alicabo of Pamantik was hit in the head with a truncheon by a police. He was treated at a nearby hospital and has rejoined the marchers.

The protesters had set up a “kanlungan” or a sanctuary at the Mendiola peace arc where they will stay until a big protest on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.


As soon as the marchers reached the foot of Mendiola, the “datus” or chieftains held an all-tribes ritual, where they greeted the good spirits in the place, as well as gave thanks for their safe journey, by presenting courtesy gifts of cloths, betel nut and leaves.

Guaynon said almost all 18 Lumad tribes of Mindanao were represented in the Manilakbayan, including the Manobo, Banwaon, Higaonon, Matigsalog, Bagobo, Ata Manobo, Mamanwa, Tigwahonon, Subanon, Blaan, among others.

During the program, the tribal chiefs also slaughtered a native pig and a white chicken, as a gift to the good spirits, with a fervent prayer that would-be victims of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses would be saved.

“We call on the good spirits of the trees, of the water around to save many lives, by taking the life of this pig,” explained Dulphing Ogan, secretary general of the Kusog sa Katawhang Lumad sa Mindanao (Kalumaran).

The offering also served a condemnation of the Aquino government, whose counterinsurgency plan Oplan Bayanihan continues to militarize communities, and protect big foreign extractive companies, Kalumbay leader Datu Jomorito Guaynon said.

One of the Lumad leaders went around the crowd with a white chicken feather dipped in blood, offering to smear people’s palms with blood, by way of “pamaas,” a symbolic solidarity with the tribes. People held out their palms in response.

“This means that we are united, and wherever we go, we will not be hindered,” said the Lumad leader.

At the end of the program, the protesters attached “kodaw” with red ribbons on the concertina wires in front of the Mendiola arc, by way of serving a notice to Pres. Aquino to answer their demands. The kodaw is a strip of rattan, which is the indigenous people’s way of sending messages. The number of knots on the kodaw represents the number of days before the sender will come. A red cloth means that the sender demands an answer from the receiver.

The protesters had kodaws with five knots, which means that the protesters give Aquino five days to respond.

“If he doesn’t answer, that means that he doesn’t want to talk to us, and he is not for the Lumad, not for the people,” said Goaynon.


On Nov. 23, the Council for Health Development (CHD) recorded treating 100 Lakbayanis at the medical check-up they held at the Redemptorist church in Baclaran where the Manilakbayan and Southern Tagalog marchers rested for the night.

Among those treated, five underwent minor surgery due to foot infection. Some patients complained of stomach pains caused by hyperacidity, given their long hours of walking, and not eating on time. Many suffered from muscular pains.

The Task Force on Urban Conscientization (TFUC) health workers also gave acupressure and acupuncture treatments to the marchers.

Article: Ayroso, D. “Manilakbayan | Protesters call for Aquino ouster”, Bulatlat.com, 2014/11/25

Photos: Kodao Productions

introiris asked:

what's the most accurate/ best movie about the Philippine history that you've seen?

Best. Movie. About. Philippine. History. 

That’s a hard one. 

In my humble opinion, no one can come close to what Mike de Leon did in his film “Bayaning Third World" (2000) in terms of accuracy. De Leon made use of extant documents, making these primary sources speak for themselves through the characters that wrote them. 

Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Jose Rizal" (1998) came close to being a great film, but it shied away from the Rizal retraction controversy by just reaffirming that Rizal retracted even when this is still being debated upon by historians. Cesar Montano as Rizal was still exceptional though.

These two films managed to strike a balance between being accurate historically and not having a dragging storyline, a prevalent defect of most Filipino historical films who tend to follow primary sources too closely and in so doing sacrificing creativity in the part of film direction. 

Another film that followed the historical documents was Raymond Red’s “Sakay" (1993), which quite frankly was a very good summary of the life of the revolutionary Macario Sakay, who fought Spaniards, and later on Americans, well-after the Philippine-American War. John Dahl’s "The Great Raid" (2005) was also a pretty good film of the successful raid on the Japanese concentration camp in Cabanatuan during the Japanese Occupation. Siri and Kiri Dalena’s "Ang Kababaihan ng Malolos" (2013) was a praiseworthy musical ‘docudrama’ about the women of Malolos who braved through ostracism and political persecution to be granted the permission to study the Spanish language. Their renown made Rizal write to them in an article in La Solidaridad. The story is told by one of the women, Basilia Tantoco, through narration and sometimes through song.

The most crappy Filipino historical film I ever saw was “El Presidente" (2012) which was dependent only on Aguinaldo’s memoir, which naturally has bias in favor of the memoirist. I don’t even want to tell of the bad acting of the actor in the film. It was really bad. Another crappy film, was Mario O’hara’s "Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (2010). The film was about the kangaroo court trial of the Magdalo military against the founder of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio. The film had that rare chance to uphold truth and justice for the slain hero but instead the story reverted back to absurdity and ‘postmodernism’ that to make sense of it all is just plain weird. (For the record, I am never impressed by those "isms" in film. Stop treating art for art’s sake. Art is just a medium to carry the message. Romanticizing the medium, and glorifying it, makes the message—its raison-d’etre—trivial and therefore nonsensical).  

Upcoming films show some promise. Like Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna" (2015) with an all-star cast. The trailer looks awesome, and it seems the director would be faithful to the historical accounts, based on those super-accurate uniforms of the Philippine army under Luna. 

There were other forgotten historical films we have. I haven’t watched them yet, but I saw some posters of them in some old quarters of Manila (Escolta, Intramuros, and Binondo). There was “Los Ultimos de Filipinas” (1945) which documented the heroic Spanish contingent who withstood Filipino revolutionaries for one whole year in Baler. There was National Artist Gerardo de Leon’s “Diego Silang” (1951) that showed the life of Diego Silang, the revolutionary from Ilocos, who sought to rebel against Spain during the British Occupation of Manila. Felix Villar’s “Heneral Paua" (1956) portrayed the only Chinese general who fought in the Philippine side during the Philippine Revolution against Spain and in the Philippine-American War. 

While we have history films, we do not have much historical fiction films. There’s John Sayles’s “Amigo" (2011) which was set in an imaginary Filipino town in a countryside taken over by American forces during the Philippine-American War. There was also Albert Martinez’s "Rosario" (2010) which was a recent good attempt of a historical fiction set in the American Colonial Period, centering on the life and tragedy of the liberal Filipina pensionado. My other fellow tumblr-blogger friends might know other films I haven’t mentioned. Feel free to reblog and add to the list. :)


Meet The Manufacturer: #1530: Lucky Me! Spicy Beef Mami Instant Noodle Soup - Philippines

Finished (click image to enlarge). Added beef, sweet onion and bell pepper. The noodles hydrate quite nicely with a good gauge and mouthfeel that I would expect from a standard instant. The broth has a nice little punch of spiciness and a very good beef flavor. 3.75 out of 5.0 stars.EAN bar code 4807770191206.

Reading song lyrics to the new One Direction Album, still trying to learn all the lyrics lol.

Writing many many many MANY posts because I need to queue posts for the time I’m in the Philippines because it’s quite hard to find time to post as we are always busy while we’re there.

Listening to “No Scrub” By: TLC it just popped up as my iTunes Library is on Shuffle.

Thinking of where I will be going out to with my bestfriend because we both have confirmed on our little outing to go shopping.

Smelling absolutely nothing, my nose is quite stuffed due to weather because I have allergies.

Wishing that a certain worry I have at the moment goes away. ASAP.

Hoping that the days go by faster because in exactly 2 weeks I should be on Philippines soil. We fly in 13 days but because of the 11 hour flight & the time difference we will be there on the next day. 

Wearing my eyes on the back of my head, lately a problem came up with an old friend, ex friend now. Where she talked about me, and it’s crazy how people do that, especially because we were pretty close. It’s crazy how someone could be your pea to your pod & the next your at a war. 

Loving the weather, this weekend of mines was filled of the coldness of San Francisco and to come home to a very windy cool breezy Hawaii is just great. It makes me love winter more than I already do.

Wanting a roundtrip all around the world.

Needing more time to travel, I really do love traveling and all but the flying is my only problem. I hate sitting in an airplane. I just want infinite time to travel. Traveling makes me happy, makes me feel free and liberating.

Feeling great, I just got back from SF & although we came home pretty late last night and I didn’t sleep till 2 am, I had an overall great experience.

hope you all have a blessed sunday. <3