I originally wrote a rant on Facebook about this subject and decided to expand on it here.
So many people have asked questions about Philippine tribal tattoo patterns. Where can patterns be found and what do they mean? While there are some patterns to source, most have been lost over time as well as their meanings. Like all tattoo cultures, Philippine tribal tattoos represent; social stature, community, beautification and at times within the context of headhunting and raiding…have you taken a head lately or raided another village?
Obviously you cannot tattoo certain patterns, as they are sacred to the remaining few indigenous groups found in the highlands of the Philippine Archipelago. Should you choose to tattoo yourself with some of these patterns, do it in an honorable way that pays respect and homage.
Yes, I have Philippine patterns on my forearms and upper arm, they are a mix of Northern and Southern Philippine tribal motifs. I chose the patterns based on their beauty and representation of flowing rivers, rice terraces and lightning. For me, they each represent subsistence living, rebirth through flowing water and the power of nature. It is my personal homage to my homeland and to those few who braved centuries of colonization and managed to keep their cultural heritage alive and vibrant.
Some Filipino patterns are like Polynesian patterns but are not exactly the same but some do share the same meanings. To twist and mix it up and claim it’s strictly Filipino, dishonors both of our cultures and really pisses off some Polynesians.
The Philippines has such a great textile, pottery and carving culture. Why not make that connection instead? Help preserve these patterns and motifs and truly honor what is ours. Bring them to the forefront and show the world the beauty of our art. Are we not good enough to stand with other tattoo cultures? Is our culture so devalued that we need to seek it in other cultures or make up BS to elevate ourselves? Does it really matter what a pattern means? Making a connection to one’s heritage IS important and should go deeper than a tattoo needle and ink.