The Legacy of the Patik



Did you know that the precolonial Filipinos practiced the art of tattooing, inking their skins with symbols of bravery, prestige, power, and for beauty; and the ancient Filipinos have a special word for this — the patik.

Patik comes from the Cebuano language, the lingua franca of the sixteenth-century Central Visayas, that means to tattoo, to mark, or to print. In the 1500s, when the Spaniards sailed on Visayan waters, they described that the natives of these islands were black with tattoos. Thus, they named the Visayas as the Islas de los Pintados or the Islands of the Painted People.


It was not only the precolonial Visayans who practiced the art of tattooing, for up in the mountains of Northern Luzon, the Igorot people or the Cordillerans, have this similar practice, and in the Kalinga province, they called this the batok.

Meanwhile the Ibanags, the people living on the banks of Cagayan River below Gattaran, they named tattooing as the appaku, that came from the word paku, or fern, for its fern-like designs.

For the numerous Agtas in the archipelago they called tattooing as pika, and for the Dumagats, it was known as the cadlet.


In pre-conquest times, for men and women, having a tattoo was no easy feat — one has to earn it. These skin arts were treated like precious pieces of jewelry or medals of honor, which announced their rank, valor, and social standing. The more skin paints they had, the more experience they had; therefore, the more respect they would receive.

These skin arts were treated like precious pieces of jewelry or medals of honor, which announced their rank, valor, and social standing. The more skin paints they had, the more experience they had; therefore, the more respect they would receive.

Regional tattoos might be geometric shapes that represented powerful or poisonous animals such as pythons, crocodiles, eagles, dogs, centipedes, and other cunning creatures. Thus, a warrior with a full-body tattoo that depicted these creatures was a dangerous and powerful man. There were also decorative and flowery tattoos such as lilies, lotuses, ferns, and hibiscus.

In the ancient Visayas, a warrior would receive his first tattoos at their ankles, working its way up on to its chest, shoulders, and the buttocks and back as his warring experience grew. Tattoos on the face, from ears to chin and around the eyes were reserved only for the greatest and fiercest Visayan warriors who had successfully protected their village and eliminated their enemies.

According to historians, there’s a Visayan term called tigma that means a youth’s first taste of sex or war while tiklad is his/her first victory in love or battle. And the pre-Hispanic Visayans who had experienced these were tattooed for laudatory notices from their community.

It is widely believed that these precolonial tattoos were connected with magic and religious meanings as though these tattoos provided special powers to the owner, giving them a sense of strength, protection, and luck.

Also, the wives of the warriors were also tattooed, for if these women were not lavishly painted, they could not enter their ancestral land of the dead as for the old beliefs of the Ibanags.


Currently, the ancient Filipino-inspired tattoos are now easily purchased from tattoo artists — not requiring heroic feats — and they are sadly classified as tribal tattoos; yet upon understanding patik, batok, appaku, pika, and cadlet we can appreciate:

  1. The precolonial Filipinos had a system of awards and recognition through these valuable tattoos.
  2. These ancient tattoos were earned through bravery, hard work, and service to their community.
  3. And these are cultural treasures from the precolonial Filipinos that we can be proud of.


  • Blair, Emma Helen, and Alexander Robertson, eds., The Philippine Islands 1493-1898 (Volumes I–LV). Reprint of the 1903-1909 edition, Michigan Library, 2005.
  • Jocano, Felipe Landa. Anthropology of the Filipino People II: Filipino Indigenous Ethnic Communities; Patterns, Variations, and Typologies. Quezon City: Punlad Research House, 2003.
  • Manansala, Vicente. Planting of the First Cross, 1960s. Manila: National Museum of the Philippines.
  • Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2004.

This is a public service, an educational campaign of Datu Press®.

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