i dream of being possible

batok and filipinx appropriation

I would”ve reblogged this post by ‘this is not pilipinx” on non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos. Their basic answer was:

if you are of F/Pilipinx descent and thinking of getting tattooed in [the Kalinga] style, I feel that there’s no harm in it

I have to disagree… there can be a great deal of harm in non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos.

The first is appropriation. And this is something that applies to pilipin@s who aren”t Kalinga, as well as any non-pilipin@. The Kalinga are, currently, one of the Indigenous groups in the PH. While, yes, one can make the argument that all pilipinx ethnicities are indigenous and you”d be correct, to a degree, you”d also be wrong in other important ways.

The current construction of ‘Indigenous” (yes, notice the capitalization) as identity/distinction is rather new and is somewhat race neutral. Overall, the way that most people use it is to refer to minority (in the numerical and the socio-political sense) ethnic groups who still practice many of their traditional (in most cases pre-colonial) cultural practices. It is also usually defined in relation to specific land bases, but doesn”t exclude those living in diaspora communities.

I”ve talked about these issues before. As a tagalog, I think it would be hugely disrespectful and awful of me to identify myself as capital ‘I” Indigenous. Given the closeness of traditional tagalog territory to the capital of the colonizers and that the capital still is still firmly within our territory and the ways that tagalogs try to pass off our language (and cultural aspects) as the default, universalized ‘filipin@” culture, it seems a step too far for me to also say, “hey, I”m Indigenous too, so I can get all the Kalinga tattoos I want!”. I”m not Kalinga. And. Acting entitled to their culture is colonizer shit.

That said, this is also me borderline speaking for Kalinga people which is shitty in its own way. Like, I”m analyzing this shit from my own perspective and feelings, but I know that when I went to a talk about Kalinga Batok and someone asked a similar question about appropriation and such, the presenter (who has had talks with Apo Whang-ud), said that she is happy to see the revival. And, certainly, she makes her living from giving these tattoos to ppl (including white ppl). And this interest and revival also helps support other people in the village and areas. Like. I def. don”t want to sit here and say “don”t get any of these tattoos” only to end up making Apo Whang-ud poor in her old age. If she is happy and willing to do this, then that is her (and other Kalinga ppl”s) perogative.

So, part of my answer is: I think if you get a specific Kalinga tattoo, you should probably get it from a Kalinga person and no one else. This way, you are supporting the people who have get this tradition alive directly. It also gives them the opportunity to decide which motifs are okay for outsiders and which are not. Like, the patterns aren”t free-for-alls. You shouldn”t be getting warrior tattoos, if you aren”t a warrior (and like, I think that Apo Whang-ud doesn”t do whatever people ask and that their are secrets and motifs that aren”t shared with just anyone). But this allows them to set the boundaries for engagement while you support them directly.

But how does this help those of us in the diaspora who want tattoos and can”t afford to return to the PH and make the trip into the mountains?

For me, since I”m currently working on a traditional inspired tattoo, this is what I do: get a traditional inspired tattoo from a filipina artist. Don”t get a traditional (inspired) tattoo from anyone who isn”t filipin@. I think the Four Waves ppl have non-filipin@ ppl as approved artists on their list. I don”t agree with this. If you”re getting a traditional motif, keep it within the community. Support our own artists.

I also, when discussing the tattoo design with my artist, really emphasized that I wanted an ‘inspired” tattoo, rather than a recreation. So there are some traditional elements fused with other stuff. I also told her that I wanted only motifs (often Kalinga, since it is the best preserved tradition) that are ok for outsiders to have. Because, while they all have meaning, some are more general and, yeah, some are aesthetic too. I”m fine with getting that stuff from non-Kalinga artists. Also, people can look into shared Pacific Islander motifs, since if you have Lane Wilkins’ book, there is a section doing Pacific comparisons and noting stuff that is common to the various islands. This stuff seems to be not-ethnically bounded but rather geographically. Thus, reducing the chances that you are appropriating motifs that you shouldn”t have.

One of the things I notice that seems to be troubling to me about filipin@s wanting ~traditional~ tattoos is that a lot of us forget that culture is a living thing. Just because something has been used by the Kalinga for hundreds of years, it doesn”t make it more authentically filipin@ than anything else. We can revive our tattooing tradition by also creating new traditions. An example is all of the ppl who get the sun from the flag tattooed. This isn”t a ‘traditional” tattoo, but it is becoming a modern tradition and a way to mark ingroup membership and ethnicity. This is just as authentic as Kalinga motifs. But, like, when working with a Filipin@ artist, you can also consider the location of the tattoo as being how you mark authenticiy. Example: I started on mt left arm as a way to mark my coming of age as a woman, since arm tattoos are traditionally something that women get when they come of age as a way to mark fertility (rather than men).

Or you can get modern representations of traditional motifs. Like. Snakes and centipedes are a big deal in Kalinga tattooing. So instead of getting a traditional Kalinga one, why not get a ‘modern” version of a snake as interpreted by your specific artist? Like, literally let them make the art they want and get that. It is ‘traditional” without being appropriative.

Essentially, what I”m saying is: be creative and don”t act entitled to get whatever you want just because you want it.