The Philippines is an ancient Archipelago
Long before the Spanish land grab and unification of all islands under the name ‘Las Islas Filipinas’ (the islands that belong to Philip), there was rich culture, art, commerce, traditions, language, writing systems with localized political units and organized kingdoms.
Many belief systems and traditional practices have been forgotten or adapted over the years, through Islamic migration and enforced Christian conversion to mass waves of migration of people from Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Mainland Asia, Europe and the Americas to over 400 years of Colonisation.
Throughout the centuries of mass migration and cultural upheaval, certain aspects of regional and indigenous culture have survived and that sets us apart from many Spanish Colonies.
We have over 150 dialects spoken in the Philippines, with 13 indigenous languages spoken by at least 1m people. We have indigenous martial arts systems practiced throughout the islands, our writing systems have survived even though it is not taught in formal Philippine education, we have regional dances that are still practiced today, festivals with roots in naturist beliefs and we have our own style of tattooing.
Mainly due to the Spanish colonial occupation, did a negative stigma arise regarding the practice of tattooing, in fact, when the Spanish first arrived on the islands, they named us ‘Los Pintados’, the painted ones.
Global Cultural Revival
Recently we have seen a revival of traditional Filipino tribal tattoos among the Filipino diaspora, those of Filipino heritage born or brought into life away from the Philippines. These people long to identify with their heritage and amongst comparable diaspora from India, China, Korea, Japan and Thailand, feel that the Philippines too has as much of an indigenous and traditional culture to offer. We too have our own cuisine, our own arts & dances, our own martial arts and our own writing system.
With the emergence of Polynesian tribal tattoos coming from people Maori, Samoan and Hawaiian heritage, to name a few, this too struck a chord with Filipinos, as migration through the Philippine Islands affords the Philippines and Polynesia/Austronesia/Oceania a shared history.
There are global visionaries such as world famous 90+ yr. old Whang-Od, one of the last remaining traditional Kalinga tattooists in Luzon, Elle Mana-Festin, co-founder of the ‘Tatak ng Apat na Alon’ (Mark of the Four Waves – signifying the 4 main waves of migration through the Philippine Islands) Tribe from LA, godfather of the current Polynesian revival Aisea Toetu’u, a Tongan / Filipino from Hawaii credited for bringing tattooing back to Tonga after 200 years of Christian censorship, Aisea also serves as a mentor for the aforementioned Elle. Another notable personality is the famous Bong Tatau of Humble Beginnings in San Jose, CA, a specialist in Polynesian tattooing, increasingly he is incorporating Filipino designs and symbolism into his work. These people are helping to raise the profile of the practice of tribal tattoos.
Just this month, New Zealand had its first female MP; Nanaia Mahuta, Labour MP for Hauraki-Waikato, with a traditional facial Maori tattoo, ‘Moko’, present in Parliament. This is a beautiful moment for the indigenous people of New Zealand, this is not cultural appropriation as we have seen with the ‘Haka’ in New Zealand Rugby, this is a native person exercising her freedom of traditional expression while making a difference in her country.
In the Philippines, many have long discussed what representation means. How can the country move away from Oligrachs and the biggest and most wealthy families continuing to run the show? When the elite are so far removed from the masses? A big part of that process is by affording the native and indigenous peoples of the Philippines a platform and a voice. Hopefully we will find our own Nanaia Mahuta.
Join Us this September
This September, is the annual London Tattoo Convention, which brings together artists and practitioners from across the globe to London. This year, Elle Mana-Festin, Co-Founder of the ‘Tatak ng Apat na Alon’ Tribe will be visiting the UK to meet his international peers and has agreed to giving a talk and presentation in partnership with Philippine Generations on the 26th September, venue TBC. Just as we brought you Kristian Kabuay and Baybayin in 2013, we will be enabling Elle to share his knowledge and experience from more than 20 years of research and practice of traditional Filipino tattoos!
Please watch this space, as we will soon announce where this talk and networking opportunity will take place.
By Adrian Williams