71 Filipino Tribal Tattoo Designs for Men
The art of tattooing was once an integral part of tribal culture in the Philippines. Unfortunately, by the 1700s, the practice had all but fallen by the wayside due to the influence of invaders such as the Spanish Conquistadors.
Now, true Filipino tribal tattoos (called batek, batok, or patik in the Philippines) are a rarity, and a Filipino tattoo artist will only ink these designs on clients of Filipino heritage.
Many modern Filipinos frown on tattooing in general. But many locals and foreign tourists still seek to get inked by the legendary Apo Whang Od, the oldest magbabatok (tattoo artist) in the Philippines at 105 years old.
As far as the designs common to this style, Filipino tribal tattoos often draw inspiration from nature. Traditionally, an artist tattooed scenes and symbols highlighting aspects of the area where they themselves grew up.
For example, if an artist grew up near a mountain range with a river running through it, symbols depicting mountains and rivers would likely feature in their designs. In the Cordillera mountains, where Apo Whang Od lives, tattoo art is based on animals like snakes and plants like ferns.
Filipino tribal tattoos offered men protection, represented a tribe member’s bravery in battle, or signified their tribe status. As with many forms of indigenous tattooing, repetitive, meticulous patterns were commonplace, as opposed to the elaborate, photo-realistic images often seen in modern Western tattooing.
These patterns included circles, diamonds, as well as rudimentary shapes of dogs, men, and eagles. Hexagonal shapes resembling snake skin or beehives also show up frequently in Filipino tribal art.
Armbands were popular choices as far as placement, as were full chest pieces. All parts of the body except the hands and feet were considered prime real estate for ink.
Below you’ll find a mix of both modern to traditional tribal styles in addition to everything else in between.
1. Intricate Filipino Tribal Tattoos
A hallmark of the Filipino tribal tattoo style is that intricate pattern of linework that makes each design what it is. Designs can be simple, but a superior tattoo is going to stand out with incredibly precise, clean lines that create an intricate mesh of shapes and patterns.
That means competent and accurate shading, black that is as solid as night, and lines that maintain their weight across the whole of the design with no blowouts, no wavering, and no gaps.
The end result is something laid onto flesh with a nearly mathematical precision in which elements from the top of the tattoo, the bottom of the tattoo, and the middle of the tattoo all match and could be interchangeable.
A favorite centerpiece of Filipino tattoos is the sun, which represents liberty and the steps taken by this Southeast Asia nation toward progress. This body art is patterned after the sun depicted in the Philippine flag, along with the eight rays representing the provinces that initiated the revolution against colonizers. A crude map of the country completes the design.
2. Half Sleeve Filipino Tribal Tattoos
Traditionally, many Filipino tribal tattoos started on the arms and spread across the body as the warrior who bore them aged and achieved more status. But the arm was often the first part of the whole canvas, which is why the half-sleeve Filipino tribal tattoo is still such a popular design.
The patterns used here have been designed very specifically to complement the arm’s shape and biology, following the musculature of the shoulder down to the elbow. They draw attention to, and even accent, the muscle and mold to the shape of the body without being forced the way some less traditional designs have to.
You can also find more designs highlighting the sun below.
3. Fusion Filipino Tribal Tattoos
With dozens of styles of tattoos available, it’s not hard to imagine the idea of fusing two together in an effort to create something new. Filipino tribal tattoo style can be merged with other styles, or incorporate simple elements from illustrative, Traditional, or other styles to create a visually dynamic image that follows its own rules.
Traditional Filipino tribal tattoos are always solid black, but a splash of color can offset the entire design in a new and unique way, as can adapting the style to new images like crosses or even animals.
It’s not surprising to find a cross in Filipino tattoos since the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, the only one in Asia. The nation marked 500 years of Christianity in 2021.
4. Celestial Filipino Tribal Tattoos
A classic Filipino tribal tattoo design doesn’t contain a lot of elaborate imagery, but there are some symbols of meaning that appear, particularly designs of a celestial nature that include the sun and stars. The designs evoke natural images, even many of the simple lines are meant to represent things in nature like trees and snakes.
These design elements can add a visual dynamic to a Filipino tribal tattoo that make it stand out beyond the stylistically similar patterns that make up the bulk of these designs. The use of negative space is key in these designs to bringing the celestial elements to the forefront.
The sun and stars, which are both found on the Philippine flag, hold deep meaning for Filipinos. If you look closely, a full image of the sun always has eight rays and there are always three stars.
While the sun’s eight rays symbolize the provinces that led the revolt against colonizers, the three stars, as can be seen in the tattoos below, represent the three principal islands in the archipelago, namely, Luzon, Panay, and Mindanao.
5. Classical Filipino Tribal Tattoos
Every Filipino tribal tattoo design has a meaning. Among the tribes of Cordillera, where Apo Whang-Od still practices hand-tapped tattooing, warriors were adorned with a simple band of stripes called a “gulot” when they make their first kill in battle.
The pattern would be built with each subsequent victory in battle. The greatest of warriors would have face tattoos. Other designs were body specific like the ablay , only found on the shoulder.
These classic Filipino tribal tattoo designs range from simple to intricate but follow established, repeated patterns to build a solid design. The black needs to be bold and solid, the lines should be crisp, and the negative spaces need to be clean.
Among the most common designs are day and night (diamond-shaped negative space against a background of black ink), snakeskin (hexagonal shapes), and a centipede (two parallel lines with a series of V shapes on both sides).
6. Massive Filipino Tribal Tattoos
The nature of the Filipino tribal tattoo design is such that the patterns and intricate layers of shapes, shading, and linework can be as small or as large as you want. Full sleeves, back pieces and full chest tattoos are often done in this style because the patterns are easy to both build upon and repeat across as much space or as little space as is needed. Not only does this add to the overall look it will assist with the practical application as the same tattoo can easily be built over multiple sessions without any obvious gaps in appearance.
Filipino Tribal Tattoo FAQs
What do Filipino tribal tattoos mean?
Tribal warriors of the Philippines were called Pintados by the Conquistadors, who first encountered them. Their bodies were adorned with elaborate patterns that had been painfully forced into their flesh with needles made from things like bone or the thorns of Calamansi trees dipped in a charcoal mixture. The process was arduous and proved the mettle of the warrior who bore them.
The designs themselves were a kind of psychological warfare. The larger and more elaborate the pattern, the more pain the warrior wearing it was clearly able to take and the more feared he would be by his enemies because they could see just how tough this person truly was.
Interested in more tribal style tattoo designs? Click on the links below for more galleries: