Indigenous groups throughout the Philippine islands have been practising the art of tattooing for centuries. But after the arrival of the Spanish, the Americans and the advent of Christianity , traditional practices such as tattooing were evidently on the verge of extinction.
When the Spaniards first arrived in the Visayan islands in 1521, they labelled the natives of this region as "pintados", meaning "painted people" or "painted ones", as most of their entire bodies were covered in tattoos leaving only their hands and feet bare. The three illustrations below are from the Boxer Codex depicting the tattoos of the ancient Visayans. c.1595. Last image is a carving of "Prince Giolo", a tattooed native known to be from a southern island (Miangas) previously part of the Philippines. He was purchased as a slave in Mindanao in 1692 by English privateer William Dampier. Giolo was then displayed as part of a public exhibition in England to showcase his fully tattooed body.
In Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines is inhabited by a number of indigenous groups. More popular for their extensive tattoos and rituals are the northern mountain tribespeople of the Cordillera Region, collectively known as "Cordillerans" or "Igorots".
Several of these tribal groups customarily practiced headhunting, being one of the main reasons behind tattooing. They believed tattoos possessed spiritual powers and magical qualities which gave them strength and protection. They were also used to distinguish or reward a warrior after a successful headhunt expedition and marked their social status within their community.
Women were also tattooed; to enhance their beauty, for fertility and to serve as means of clothing. First four images are the tattoos of Cordilleran women and the last two are leg tattoos of a Banwa-on tribeswoman from Mindanao.
Methods and tools used in ancient Filipino tattooing all differed between the groups throughout the regions. Some methods involved attaching a sharpened object such as metal, a thorn, wood or a bone to one end of a stick and was then either tapped or poked repeatedly into the skin to apply the ink. Another method involved cutting or pricking the skin prior to rubbing black powder into the wound.