High up in the terraced rice fields of the Philippine Cordillera mountains, traditional tattooing (batek, Kalinga) among the former headhunters of northwestern Luzon is nearly extinct. Today, you can only see traces of the indelible art in all of its splendor among the Kalinga and maybe one or two other groups living in the area. But back in 1900, just before American authorities outlawed headhunting, tattoo was to be seen everywhere, especially among the Bontoc Igorot, Kalinga, and Ifugao peoples.
Bontoc is derived from two local words, "bun" (heap) and "tuk" (top), which together mean "mountains." As they have for centuries, most Igorots live in Bontoc municipality near the upper Chico River basin and in the capitol city of the municipality, Bontoc. The region is bounded to the north by the Kalinga-Apayao province and to the south by the Ifugao and Benguet provinces. Although there is a common language, several villages in the Bontoc region have their own distinct dialect.
Generally speaking, the Bontoc Igorots recognized several kinds of tattoos and very often the amount of designs worn by a man was directly related to the proportion of human heads he had taken in the headhunt. The chaklag, usually running upward from each nipple, curving out on the shoulders and ending on the upper arms, indicated that the man had taken a head or, as one writer put it in 1905, "The indelible tattoo emblem proclaims them takers of human heads, nine-tenths of the men in the pueblos of Bontoc and Samoki wear them." Among the neighboring Kalinga to the north, successful warriors (maingor) had tattoos placed at the back of their hands and wrists after their first kill. These striped designs were called gulot, meaning "cutter of the head." Kalinga men who killed two or more men had elaborate patterns applied to their arms and chests called biking, comprised of khaman ("head-axes"), ufug ("centipede scales") and bodies of the centipede (gayaman), which were protective and spiritually charged symbols. The khaman design also covered portions of the torso, back, and thighs and centipede scales crossed the cheeks of the most successful warriors. Sometimes, a human anthropomorph was tattooed just above the navel and small crosses adorned the face, indicating a warrior of the highest rank. Other more simple markings had therapeutic value and were placed on goiters, tumors and varicose veins. Among the Kalinga particular arrangements of centipede scales were believed to ward off cholera.
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