COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
For many years now, the name Pintados is associated with Leyte as it is always presented and advertised in the Pintados Festival during the Tacloban City Fiesta celebration every June of the year. And for many years now, intellectuals have debated – and almost to the point of resignation – the historical basis for such representation of the Leyte’s early local inhabitants. They argued that our ancestors were not painted, as the name Pintados suggests, but tattooed.The term “painted” was the description made by the early Spanish colonizers who first set foot in Leyte and saw the local inhabitants with tattoo on their bodies. Francisco Ignacio Alzina in particular, chronicled: “The Bisayans are called Pintados…” of which “pintado” is the Spanish term for painted. And I suppose it was the account of that Jesuit priest Alzina from which the organizers of the Pintados Festival got its name.
Now Pintados may be is a misnomer in describing the tattooed natives simply because the procedure involved in making those markings was not painting as we know it. But describing the tattoos as “paintings,” hence calling the natives “painted” is not altogether a wrong term. To paint is an act of laying colors in making a picture or figure using oil pigments or other coloring materials. “Painted” was a general term I suppose the Spaniards used upon seeing the figures on the human bodies. Ancient people had paintings on cave walls and ceilings, potteries, ceramics, wood, metal and other objects until the Spaniards discovered paintings on the bodies of the people in Leyte (and possibly in the neighboring islands.)
So what were the tattoo motifs and designs of the early Leyte inhabitants? Instructive is the lecture “Resurrecting the “Pintado” Tattoo” given by Prof. Dulce C. Anacion on the occasion of the Leyte Heritage Festival. Prof. Anacion of the University of the Philippines in the VisayasTacloban College notes: “Since the local inhabitants’ practice of tattooing was abruptly stopped by the Jesuits in the 1600s with religion, tattooing in the island of Leyte has extremely vanished and all we could do now is merely speculate on the tattoo motifs and designs.”
This could only mean that the designs and motifs we see during the Pintados Festival are not the ones found here in Leyte before; thus, misrepresenting our tattooed ancestors. Moreover, the lack of skills or inclination to draw among the Spanish chroniclers was worse than religion, not thoroughly documenting what they see and losing a significant part of history. But then, what do we expect from colonization if not for things to be erased, and replaced with those familiar with the colonizers.
Nevertheless. Anacion’s enlightening recourse to this “vanished
Leyte Pintado tattoo” is “thru the theory of diffusion” where she says, “I could make a probability that the close cousins of the Leyte tattoo were that of the islands closely accessible like Mindanao and Borneo.” People in those times were assimilating their neighboring cultures through trade and migration especially within South East Asia and the islands in the Pacific Rim.
A short film clip and slide presentation during the lecture was informative of Borneo’s tattoo motifs and designs. There is the “Aso” or the “dog motif” that has Chinese influence and somewhat projecting the image of a dragon. Then there are the Spirals; singular, double, joined or interlocking and depicting waves and sea movements. Others are patterned from nature, and also from the weaving ceremony which is considered as women’s arts/wars. While that of Mindanao, Anacion cites that “we are reminded of the “okir” or “okkil” which the Maranaws of our country use to decorate their panalongs.”
But as things stand today, there is still no available data or record of the “vanished LeytePintado tattoo” that, we can rightly proclaim as our own. If we could only find mummies here like those in the caves of the Cordillera in northern Luzon where tattoos on the skin were preserved, it might lead us out of ignorance. Archeological research may yet provide us with the key to unlocking the Pintado tattoo mystery.