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thoughts on batok

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I went to the Kapwa Collective’s talk on batok yesterday. For so many reasons it was freaking awesome. Like fantastic to hear about some of the history and meaning and analysis of Kalinga batok from a leading scholar in the field. Amazing to be around so many Filipin@s interested in our history.

It also answered certain questions and anxieties I had about getting a traditional Filipin@ (likely inspired or influenced by the Kaling or Butbut in this particular instance) tattoo. Like, it is unlikely that I’ll have the money or ability to see Apo Whang-ud myself before she is gone. But I can see one of the artists in my city.

Of course, I am worried about appropriation (since I’m not Butbut or even from the Kalinga region, nor are my people). Although, my searching hasn’t really yielded any information about the history of Tagalog tattoos (like, I can’t even find if this was a thing, my guess is yes, based on what the spanish called the Philippines and where they landed, but this close contact also seems to have meant that this history is lost, if it ever was).

Anyway, but appropriation. First, it was great to hear Apo Whang-ud’s opinion about the regeneration (her word) of Filipin@ tattoos in the world. Like, she does welcome the tourists and people who go to her for tattoos (like, this is her livelyhood). It comforted me to know that she actually doesn’t give the really meaningful tattoos to tourists or outsiders. Like, she calls these tattoos ‘decorations’ because they lack the community focused meanings. This is definitely true of the warrior type tattoos… like unless you are actually a warrior, you ain’t getting one from her. The main speaker mentioned ‘secrets’ and implied that the esoteric knowledge of the meanings and patterns are being kept (but also passed along to her apprentice, from what I understand).

This also made me super happy ‘cause she is a smart business woman. I wonder how many uninformed people showed up and got designs and basically (like that one white guy we saw a while back who was like ‘this is my warrior tattoo’) called it a trad tattoo with all this Indigenous meanings but Apo Whang-ud was really just putting ‘decorations’ on them ‘cause they haven’t actually earned shit all.

And I agreed with the prof that culture needs to grow and transform beyond the traditions if it is going to continue to live. Of course, balancing this with the need for the Indigenous knowledge to be protected and not exploited/appropriated by white people. Because as much as she is willing to share and tattoo people… I will forever and ever have nothing but disgust for white people who think they are entitled or want to get batok.

For myself… I feel better about exploring the path I’ve decided on to getting tattoos. We’ll have to see what I can cook up with the artist in my city and see what can be done (what we can imagine together… because I have some ideas about how I can walk the line between getting something ‘traditional’ without necessarily appropriating from ethnicities that aren’t my own).