Getting your first baybayin letters tattoo is an exciting journey that probably made you do a deep dive into Philippine language and history. The rise in interest in this Tagalog script has encouraged more Filipinos to have this piece of their heritage tattooed on their body, but with great writing comes great responsibility (some pun intended). Having this ancient Filipino script tattooed on your body means studying its rules and adhering to them.
In this article, we talked with Alyssa Balaoing of Aly Inks and Chelsi Amour of Miss Pokes Tattoo about the tattooing culture in modern society in Philippines, the meaning of baybayin tattoos, and the importance of choosing the right tattoo artist for you and your design.
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Tattoo Culture in the Philippines
The Philippines has always had a culture for tattoos whether it was for spiritual reasons like protection charms, a symbol of one’s rank and tribe, or for vanity. All over the country you’ll find different communities with their unique cultural practices.
In Luzon, you have the mambabatoks of Kalinga that would tattoo warriors using traditional hand-tapping techniques with symbols for protection, honorariums (for headhunters who protected villages or killed enemies), and for beauty.
In Visayas, tattooed warriors called pintados would sport elaborate tattoos for psychological warfare along with their large earrings made of gold.
While in Mindanao, Pangotoeb was a traditional rite of passage for adolescents with the Pantaron Manobos, where small gifts were given to the tattoo artist to “lasat mata” or to wipe their eyes clean of the blood from the practice.
According to the Director of Museo Kordilyera and social anthropologist, Analyn Salvador-Amores, tattoos were criminalized and associated with deviant behavior in the 90s. But nowadays, this culture has been slowly changing with people becoming laxer about it as tattoos are gaining more acceptance as a form of self-expression.
“The stereotypes about people who have tattoos are slowly but surely changing, and people are starting to see it as a way of expressing themselves,” Chelsi Amour explains, “I love how it makes people, young and old, feel more at home in their bodies.”
Meaning of Baybayin Tattoos
Baybayin is an ancient Tagalog script that our ancestors wrote with before getting colonized by Spain. Recently this part of our heritage has been gaining popularity because of the rise of a modern baybayin generator on the internet.
Baybayin tattoos can mean a lot of things for different people. The language itself is a way for people to embody their culture more and showcase their roots. The word/s that they choose to have etched on their body can encapsulate their personality or their own journey.
“Baybayin tattoos are a way for some Filipinos to learn and preserve our ancient way of writing,” Amour says. She also stresses the importance of learning this ancient script to have a better sense of one’s culture and express it correctly.
With our country’s deeply rooted culture in tattooing and the art of writing in baybayin, Balaoing stresses the importance of creating an accurate design to create more meaningful results for this art form. “Imprinting this language onto our bodies is not enough, it’s also important that it’s done properly so that it won’t lose its meaning overtime,” she adds.
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Designing Your Baybayin Tattoo
Designing your Filipino baybayin tattoo and giving it meaning will come with the words you chose, a word or a phrase that resonates with you and your experiences. After finishing this first step, the work of writing it out accurately in baybayin begins. Aly Balaoing advises her clients to work with an expert in the subject if they’re unsure of the syntax.
When it comes to designing your Filipino baybayin tattoo and giving it meaning, finding a word that resonates with you and encapsulates your journey is only the first step of the process, while having the word accurately written out in baybayin is another. Balaoing advises that her clients have an expert translate it for them if they’re unsure of the syntax, especially because tattoos are a permanent decision and if it comes out wrong, you can’t really blame your artist.
Meanwhile, Chelsi Amour recommends opting out of minimalist word tattoos when it comes to script tattoos, as the ink spreads out as it gets older, which will make it harder to read in the long run.
Both Aly and Chelsi recommend working closely with your tattoo artist in terms of design, size, and placement will help you make the most out of your art.
Choosing an Artist
When it’s finally time to etch your baybayin tattoo and what it signifies onto your skin, it’s crucial that you find an artist who can understand and execute your vision.
The rise of tattoo artists means that there are variations in styles and equipment when it comes to doing tattoos. For example, Aly works with a wireless rotary machine using only vegan ink, while Chelsi focuses in hand-poked tattoos using vegan ink as well.
These ladies have stressed the importance of checking the artist’s portfolio or social media just to get a better feel of their processes and to see if they fit the art style that you want.
Hygiene is also a critical part of this process. Chelsi emphasizes that sanitation practices like tool hygiene before and every client to avoid running the risk of infection.
The Philippines has a rich history that serves as a reflection of its many islands and communities. Learning about baybayin and choosing to have it etched onto your skin is one way to showcase your heritage and pride.
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