Oxford grad puts Kalinga in global tattooing map

by Rose Eclarinal, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Apr 18 2012 08:03 AM | Updated as of Apr 18 2012 04:03 PM

OXFORD, England - Analyn ‘Ikin’ Salvador-Amores is the first Filipina scholar to obtain a masters degree and a doctorate in Social and Cultural Anthropology at Hertford College, Oxford University.

She was generously supported and funded by the International Fellowships Program of the Ford Foundation. As a native of Baguio, she wasted no time in pursuing a research closest to her heart by studying Kalinga’s traditional tattoos in diaspora.

“I feel there is greater contribution when I return to the Philippines because we become cultural leaders in our own fields and anthropology is a discipline that needs beefing up in the country. Philippines is a very anthropologically interesting place to study, especially in the Cordillera region,” she told ABS-CBN Europe during her graduation rites in Oxford.

Tattooing in Philippines

Studies have shown that the practice of tattooing in the Philippines as form of art was already prevalent in early 16th century.

Salvador-Amores explained that accounts recorded by the Spaniards in the early 18th century reveal that tattoos were already common in the Cordilleras. However, tattooing was primarily associated with the practice of head hunting, a view that is propagated to this day -- the same view that Salvador-Amores wanted to change.

“Mahirap siyang alisin sa mentality ng mga Pilipino kasi noong unang panahon, we associate tattoo with head hunting, which is not always the case. Mas may malamim na ugat kung bakit sila nagpapa-tattoo,” she said.

She also added: “The meanings are the same. It’s a narrative about the people, the history of the person, so lahat, it’s about the person in itself. Para siyang body as archive. Sa katawan nakasulat ang kasaysayan ng tao, ang biograpiya niya.”

Batok/Batek tattoos

Salvador-Amores spent 15 months in Kalinga to provide an ethnographic account and analysis of the practice of batok or batek, the term used for the traditional Igorot tattoos among the Kalinga.

“Dito kasi sa Oxford, bihira ang Pilipinas na subject of study lalo na sa traditional tattooing, specifically sa anthropology of the body. (My study) is a celebration of ethnography of traditional tattoos,” she said.

Salvador-Amores argued that this painful rites of passage is an indelible mark of bodily adornments and a form of expression of religious beliefs and political affiliations amongst the locals. But outside the Philippines, only a few know about this enlightening tradition.

“Kilala sa worldwide tattooing ang Japan, Polynesia, Oceania and Hawaii. Ang kontribusyon ko naman dito ay ilagay sa mapa ang PIlipinas, ang kanyang tattoo kasi isang napaka-unique na klase ng tattoo na matatagpuan lang sa Pilipinas. So let’s put the Kalinga tattoos of the Philippines in the map of global tattooing, kasi it’s one of its kind and it’s a very old tradition,” said Salvador-Amores.

What makes batok tattoos so unique are the use of pomelo thorn or locally known as "tinik" and charcoal as ink.

Salvador-Amores also explained that there is a "paradox of revival and decline" in batok tattooing. While there is a relative decline in traditional tattooing across Kalinga, there is also a revival of traditional tattoos in other parts of Kalinga, like in Buscalan. Interestingly, the revival cuts across local and global diaporas coming from America and Europe to have batok tattoos in their bodies.

“They return home to get tattoos in the village. It’s their permanent expression of Filipinoness,” she said.

After obtaining her postdoctoral diploma, Salvador-Amores returned to the University of the Philippines Baguio to continue teaching.