“From these examples we learn what tattooing meant for these women. They were seen as not only more beautiful, but also possessing emotional and physical fortitude to endure pain and hardship, including the pain of childbirth. A woman’s tattooing was an affirmation of her strength and inherent spiritual power, procreative endowment, and as a form of clothing, an enhancement of beauty and a proclamation of her status. Finally, the tattoos were a form of recognition that allowed the soul of a woman to pass into the afterlife and join the glorious chain of her ancestors.”
-Lane Wilcken, Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern
Women from the Philippines from various ethnic groups were also known to showcase their tattoo’s along with men, not just for beauty purposes but because also because it was a form of clothing.
Unlike men who had to earn their first tattoo by doing some brave deed such as killing their first enemy during a raid or war, women received their first tattoos at puberty as a symbol and representation of their coming-of-age and their transition from a young girl into womanhood. For women the tattoos she received represented meanings of fertility, bravery, and strength, meanings that represented her as woman and her gift of life and what she would need for childbearing.
By enduring the pain of getting tattooed from the needles tapping and piercing through ones skin it was symbolic in that if she could endure this pain, she can endure childbearing. Those who weren’t tattooed were considered barren.
Some tattoo motifs represent different aspects of their lives and as a symbol of womanhood. Some were of seeds, rice plants, crosses and dashes put on ones face to mark her as a woman ready for marriage along with confusing bad spirits of enemies that were beheaded. Some were representations of the ancestors and their protectiveness over their kin, which were believed to keep the wearer safe from harm and prevent one from getting diseases. Other tattoo motifs were given as a type of medical tattoo which were to believed to treat an ailment.
Our tattoos were also not just for beauty purposes and representing our womanhood, but they also had spiritual meanings behind them. A belief shared among many of the ethnic groups who practiced tattooing was that one who wasn’t tattooed would not be accepted into the land of the dead, as the ancestors would not recognize them.