We have come to think of people with tattoos on their body as a breed apart, notoriously drawn to trouble—criminals, street gang members, savages, and the feeble-minded. Women, on the other hand, are often subjected to negative comments and are considered trashy and “uncivilized.”
According to a study by Sir Joseph Banks in 1769, the Polynesians were the first group to practice tattooing as part of their principal community sentiment and popular superstitious beliefs. Tattoos provided superhuman powers: talisman, antidote for pain and wounds, strength, good luck, and for exorcizing demons.
An additional study by German anthropologist Wilhelm Joest in 1887 identified a shift toward tattooing tolerance—its evolvement into a form of self-expression using the body as canvass—a kind of adornment motivated by personal vanity.
The introduced art form engraved on the skin signified many things: pledge of love, decoration for bravery in battles, a mark of royalty, religious veneration, group association, one’s individuality, and in some cases, a form of punishment or badge of shame.
During the 1970s, the hippie movement and its twin upshots—flower power and LSD-crackbrained zombies—gave birth to a new-fashioned treatment to the body art form. The images were hallucinogenic, outré, and symbolic. Trending designs included the peace sign, flaming swords, a snake looped around the arm, and the consummate indication of machismo and protest: skeletal Death that transcended a Puritan’s idea of beauty and sense.
Towards the 20th century tattooing became a legitimate art form. Band members with their long seaweed hair and mohawks performing heavily amplified metal sounds at rock concerts sported incredible patterns etched on all possible space of their skin, which were promptly replicated by fans.
For decades, indigenous groups in the Philippines have been practicing this art form. In the Visayas region, Spaniards who came in 1521 told of natives wearing tattoos. They called them “pintados” which means “painted ones.” A huge part of these natives’ bodies, except for their hands and feet, was pigmented with henna and extracts from local plants.
In the Luzon area, the Igorots were known to swathe their body with tattoos. Women wore them to enhance beauty, emphasize their clothing, and to ensure childbearing fertility. Most tattooing were tapped with sharpened tools made of metal, thorn, wood, or bone.
Likewise, tattooing was prevalent among inmates to distinguish themselves from other jail mates. Prison groups were denominated as OXO, Sigue-Sigue, Batang City Jail, and Sputnik.
Dutdutan, an annual convention of tattooists, designers, and advocates of the art form is now on its 18th year of inducing a larger scope of mass acceptance for the body art. The stigma has somehow tuckered out.
Dutdutan conventions, the most recent was held on Sept. 21-22, also offer a choice of temporary tattoos and stick-ons for the non-brave hearts who like to feel better about themselves but could not hang tough against the pricking pain or the whirring sound of needles invading the dermis layer of their skin.
One experience that ought not to be missed during the convention was watching 90-plus-year-old Whang-Od Oggay, the “last and oldest mambabatok,” do her thing.
Photos by Diana B. Noche
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