The Tattooed Filipino Islanders

Present day depictions of the Pintados. Photo via: Flongology


The pre-Hispanic Filipinos called the Pintados were the tattooed people of the Central Philippine Islands. They once dominated the region and had elaborate socio-cultural practices and constructs which in a lot of ways make the life of a common Pintado quite worth delving into.

According to Spanish explorers who first documented and interacted with the Pintados, they are distinct from other natives of the regions due to their tattoo art. Their tattooing style often covers most of their bodies with patterns inspired by snakes, crocodiles or even flowers. Their method of tattooing involves using sharp pieces of iron to prick their skin and then applying soot to the open wounds which are then absorbed into the skin permanently.


Pintados as depicted in the Boxer Codex (Right)

Descriptions from the Boxer Codex (also known as the Manila manuscript) illustrate the Pintados as people who wear gold earrings and fancy ornamentations. All the body, legs, and arms are painted. The tattoos are deemed to be indicative of a man's bravery in battle: the more tattoos, the more success in war and various pillage and that the bravest is the one painted most. The tattoos also serve as a rite of passage and as ornamentation. Fittingly, the region was called Las Islas de Pintados or The Islands of the Painted Ones.

Further descriptions of the Pintados describe them as a long-haired, warlike race who likes to fasten their hair with a band around their head; they continually wage war on both land and sea where any booty taken, belongs to the chiefs, except for a small portion which is given to lower classmen.

Observations of the Pintados' social practices also reveal polygamous practices among men and a hierarchical society which practices slavery. Men may marry as many wives as they may so long as they can buy and support them. However, they may not marry anyone who is below their social class. On a different note, depictions of the Pintados may also indicate their technology in regards to processing raw materials for ornamentation purposes such as gold earrings and bracelets.

The Pintados provide us with some insights in regards as to how pre-Hispanic Filipinos may have lived their everyday lives. Thanks to the narratives that got passed down to us, the memory of the tattooed, warlike Pintados persist today.

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