Arts | Travel | Lifestyle

Tattoos: What Do They Mean?

I have a tattoo around my right ankle. I have another one on my left toe. I was young when I got them. Call it the folly of youth, the impulsive nature of anyone not old enough to know what inking oneself actually means. But to me, my tattoos represent a kinship with two dear friends — an initiation into a sisterhood I know I will forever be a part of as long as the tattoos stay on my toe and around my ankle.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. In September 1991, Helmut and Erika Simon, two German tourists walking in the Ötztal Alps, found the Iceman, the mummified remains of a man who lived around 3300 BCE. His body had 61 tattoos on it — 19 sets of vertical and horizontal lines.

In an article titled “Scientists Have Mapped Out All of Otzi the Iceman’s 61 Tattoos” by Carl Engelking, the writer says, “It is believed that the tattoos served a therapeutic or diagnostic purpose for the Iceman, because the tattoo groupings tend to cluster around the lower back and joints — places where Iceman was suffering from joint and spinal degeneration.”

In ancient Egypt, tattooing was reserved for women. Egyptian figurines dating back to 4000 to 3500 BCE show women with tattoos on their bodies and limbs.

In May 2016, while examining the preserved torso of a female Egyptian mummy, Stanford University bioarchaeologist Anne Austin came across elaborate markings on the woman’s neck.

Initially, Austin thought the tattoos were merely paint. The torso had more than 30 distinctive tattoos, depictions of various things deemed important by ancient Egyptians like lotus blossoms, cows, baboons and ‘wadjet eyes’, ancient symbols of power, which they believed would protect them from evil.

For the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, tattooing is more than just an aesthetic practice. It is a sacred tradition brought over by their ancestors from Polynesia.

The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the human body by the Maori so it was common practice to place the tattoo or moko on the face. This showed the person’s rank, social status, power and prestige.

In the Philippines, 100-year-old tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od has been keeping the Kalingan tradition of batok alive for over seven decades. Batok is the practice of hand-tapped tattooing using a razor-sharp thorn that acts as a needle which is attached to a stick. For ink, she uses a mixture of coal and water.

For decades, Whang-Od tattooed the headhunters and the women of Butbut in Buscalan, Kalinga . The headhunters earned their tattoos by protecting the villages and wiping off enemies.

However, the headhunters are long gone. These days, Whang-Od tattoos foreign and local tourists who visit Kalinga to see the last mambabatok (tattoo artist) of Kalinga in action.

Tattooing has evolved from a medicinal to religious to an aesthetic practice. Today it is considered as art by many, and some modern day tattoo artists as masters in their own right.

With the human body as their canvas and an unending list of possible themes to choose from, modern day tattoo artists are only limited by their imagination. Some of the world’s best have produced jaw-dropping art, that seems to play tricks on the beholder, by using a technique called shading.

There are three dimensional-looking tattoos. Some look very lifelike. And there are others that are so intricate that look like wood carvings or products of a laser cutter.

The tattoos I have are far from art. They were never meant to be. Getting them was something I just had to do. Do you have one?What does it mean to you? Whatever your tattoo means to you, know that to some people tattoos are more than just permanent markings on their skin. They are an expression of a dying art, a religious or sacred practice, or a means to heal an ailment.

By: Katy Concepcion-Wiggins



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