‘Batok’: A Vanishing Filipino Art

The rhythmic staccato sound of the wooden peg hitting the bamboo stick with the citrus thorn — the mono-tonal tap-tap-tap-tap — was hypnotic. It can momentarily set one at ease, relaxed, unmindful [or maybe, yet unaware] of the searing pain that is about to be inflicted on oneself.

BUSCALAN, Tinglayan, Kalinga — For many early Filipinos, having a tattoo or several tattoos is a way of life, sometimes a necessity. They have this strong belief that “inking” their skins with symbols and, sometimes, lengthy mantras would ensure their smooth passage to the afterlife. Moreover, “un-inked” skins are oft times viewed as naked bodies for both men and women.

Early European colonists [oooookay, ‘explorers’], particularly the Spaniards, christened the Visayan group of islands as “Las Islas de los Pintados” or Islands of the Painted Ones — because the first ‘Filipinos’ they met were covered from head to foot with various tattoos, as well as armbands and trinkets, that highlighted their triumphs and conquests, and in part, their status in the community.

Sadly, traditional tattooing has succumbed to the hundreds of years of colonization and ‘westernization’ of our culture and traditions. The Roman Catholic Church even condemned the ancient practice of pambabatok (hand-tapped tattooing prevalent in the Ifugao region), associating it with witchcraft and quackery.

Although a dying art, we were fortunate to have taken part in this rich traditional tattoo culture.

Sharing the same fate as the Ifugaos in the small village of Buscalan, home of the globally famous mambabatok Apo Whang-od in Tinglayan, Kalinga, the Manobos of Arakan in North Cotabato are also struggling hard to keep their traditional ways alive, in particular, their very own practice of pang-o-tub.

Unlike Ifugao tattoos that are deeply rooted in the spiritual and supernatural, Manobo tattoos are mostly ornamental. However, when the Spaniards came, the practice of  pang-o-tub became a means to ‘brand’ enslaved katutubos who changed their names when they are sold and resold.

Looking at these photos*, pang-o-tub is a lot more painful than batok:

*  grabbed from http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/

About Seeing with Brahmin eyes
My sense of humor can be keen, sarcastic, silly or corny -- sometimes all at once. I enjoy meeting new people with no preconceived ideas about what or what is not possible. You get much more out of life by being open minded and willing. I'm an easy going, good-natured person who loves life and loves people. I'm both optimistic and realistic and pretty objective when it comes to assessing situations, events, etc. In general I am a very positive person and you'll usually find we with a smile on my face.

6 Responses to ‘Batok’: A Vanishing Filipino Art

  1. angelocrux says:

    I’ve always wanted to give this a try, but seeing your pictures made me think otherwise. 😛

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