Filipino Tattoo Symbolism: A Guide for Enthusiasts
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Origin of Filipino Tattoos
  2. Meaning of Filipino Symbols
  3. Symbolism in Filipino Tribal Tattoos
  4. Significance of Animal Symbols
  5. Nature Elements in Filipino Tattoos
  6. Mythological Figures and Their Meanings
  7. How to Choose the Right Symbol for You
  8. Why Respect and Understanding Matters
  9. Tips for Getting Your First Filipino Tattoo

Have you ever marveled at the intricate designs and deep symbolism found in Filipino traditional tattoo art? If so, you're not alone. Many are drawn to the rich cultural history and unique aesthetic of these tattoos. Whether you're thinking about getting one yourself or simply want to appreciate the art form, understanding the symbolism behind these designs can provide a more profound appreciation. Let's dive into this fascinating world together, shall we?

Origin of Filipino Tattoos

The story of Filipino traditional tattoo art goes way back—centuries even, before the Philippines was even known by that name. These tattoos, known locally as "batok," were more than just body art; they were a vital part of their culture and identity.

Every tattoo told a story. They marked milestones, celebrated victories, and symbolized status in the community. Warriors often had intricate designs that showcased their bravery and accomplishments. Women, too, wore these tattoos as a badge of honor and beauty. The designs were as unique as the individuals wearing them, each carrying a specific meaning.

However, the art of batok almost faded into oblivion with the arrival of foreign colonizers who viewed the practice as savage. Thankfully, the tradition survived, passed down through generations. Today, Filipino traditional tattoo art is experiencing a resurgence, as more and more people recognize the cultural significance and aesthetic value of these tattoos.

Let's take a closer look at some of these symbols, their meanings, and how they've continued to capture the imagination of tattoo enthusiasts around the world:

  1. Warrior symbols: For the ancient Filipinos, tattoos were a badge of honor. Warriors often sported designs featuring geometric patterns and animal figures that represented courage and strength.
  2. Spiritual symbols: Many tattoo designs were deeply spiritual. They believed certain symbols could provide protection against evil spirits or bring good fortune.
  3. Nature symbols: Elements from nature, like the sun, moon, and waves, found their way into Filipino traditional tattoo art. These symbols represented life, growth, and the cyclical nature of existence.

So, as you can see, each tattoo in the Filipino tradition carries a rich tapestry of stories and meanings. It's not just about the aesthetics; it's about taking part in a centuries-old tradition and keeping a rich cultural heritage alive. And that, my friend, is what makes Filipino traditional tattoo art so special.

Meaning of Filipino Symbols

If you've ever looked at Filipino traditional tattoo art, you might have noticed a few recurring symbols. These are not just random designs; they each carry a unique meaning rooted in the culture and beliefs of the Filipino people. Let's take a closer look at some of them:

  1. Kalasag: This symbol represents a shield, symbolizing protection and defense. In the battlefield of life, a Kalasag tattoo might give you that extra boost of courage and resilience.
  2. Sarimanok: A legendary bird in Filipino folklore, the Sarimanok is a symbol of good fortune and prosperity. It's often depicted in vibrant colors, adding a splash of joy and positivity to your tattoo.
  3. Binibini: Translating to 'maiden' in English, this symbol represents femininity and beauty. It's a celebration of womanhood, making it a popular choice among many women.
  4. Bituin: Meaning 'star', this symbol stands for guidance and hope. A Bituin tattoo might serve as a reminder to always reach for the stars, no matter how challenging the journey might be.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Filipino symbols. Each one carries a piece of Filipino culture and history, making them meaningful additions to any tattoo. When you choose a Filipino traditional tattoo, you're not just getting inked—you're carrying a piece of a rich, vibrant culture with you.

Symbolism in Filipino Tribal Tattoos

When it comes to Filipino traditional tattoo art, tribal tattoos hold a special place. These designs are not just beautiful; they're steeped in history and carry profound meanings. Let's explore some of the symbolism behind them:

  1. Spirals: Spirals are common in Filipino tribal tattoos and they represent life's journey and personal growth. They symbolize the idea that life is a continuous, spiraling journey of learning and evolving.
  2. Geometric Patterns: These represent the harmony of nature and the universe. In Filipino culture, the universe is seen as a complex but perfectly balanced system, and geometric patterns capture this balance beautifully.
  3. Warrior Marks: These are symbols of bravery, strength, and honor. In ancient times, Filipino warriors would earn these tattoos as badges of honor for their bravery in battle.
  4. Animal Motifs: Animals like the carabao (water buffalo), the Philippine eagle, and the tamaraw (a type of buffalo found only in the Philippines) are powerful symbols of strength, courage, and resilience.

Understanding the symbolism behind each design can add depth and personal meaning to your Filipino tribal tattoo. It makes your tattoo more than just a piece of art; it becomes a personal narrative, a story written on your skin.

Significance of Animal Symbols

Animal symbols hold a significant place in Filipino traditional tattoo art. Each animal embodies specific traits and characteristics, making them unique symbols in Filipino body art.

  1. Philippine Eagle: Known locally as the "Haring Ibon" or King of Birds, the Philippine Eagle represents authority, power, and freedom. This majestic bird, being the national bird of the Philippines, symbolizes the spirit of the Filipino people.
  2. Carabao: The Carabao, or water buffalo, stands as a symbol of hard work, perseverance, and patience. It's a common figure in Filipino traditional tattoo art, mirroring the values of the hardworking Filipino farmers.
  3. Tamaraw: An endemic species in the Philippines, the Tamaraw represents rarity and strength. Its resilience in the face of extinction mirrors the Filipino spirit of survival against the odds.
  4. Sarimanok: Not exactly an animal, but a mythical bird in Filipino culture, the Sarimanok is a symbol of good fortune. Its vibrant colors and whimsical design make it a popular choice for those seeking luck and prosperity.

When choosing an animal symbol, it's important to align it with your personal beliefs, values, and experiences. After all, a tattoo is a personal statement, and its symbolism should resonate with who you are.

Nature Elements in Filipino Tattoos

Not just animals, but elements of nature also play a significant role in Filipino traditional tattoo art. The Philippines is a country blessed with natural beauty, from its dense forests to its stunning coastlines. These elements are beautifully captured in the tattoos, each telling a story of its own.

  1. Mountains: The Philippines is known for its mountain ranges. In Filipino tattoo art, mountains symbolize strength, stability, and resilience. This could be a reflection of your journey, overcoming obstacles and reaching new heights in life.
  2. Ocean Waves: The Philippines is an archipelago, surrounded by vast oceans. Waves in Filipino tattoos represent life's constant movement, change, and the courage to navigate through it all. If you're someone who embraces change, this might be the perfect symbol for you.
  3. Sun: The sun is a significant symbol in Filipino culture, even featuring in the national flag. In tattoos, it represents life, energy, and positivity. If you're a source of light and positivity in your circle, this symbol might resonate with you.
  4. Bamboo: The bamboo plant is a symbol of flexibility, adaptability and resilience in Filipino culture. Its ability to bend but not break under the strongest winds is something Filipinos admire and strive to emulate.

Incorporating these elements into your tattoo not only celebrates the beauty of the Philippines' natural landscapes but also allows you to express your personal journey and experiences. Remember, Filipino traditional tattoo art is not just about the aesthetics—it's about telling your story.

Mythological Figures and Their Meanings

Stepping into the fascinating realm of Filipino traditional tattoo art, you'll notice a plethora of mythological figures, each rich with symbolism. The Philippines' vibrant folklore features a wide array of mythical creatures and deities, many of which find their way into the intricate designs of Filipino tattoos. Let's explore a few of them:

  1. Bathala: Bathala is the supreme god in Filipino mythology, often depicted as a sky deity. A tattoo of Bathala can signify a belief in a higher power or a guiding force in life.
  2. Sarimanok: The Sarimanok is a colorful bird, a symbol of good fortune and prosperity. If you're an optimist who believes in attracting positive energy, this could be your symbol.
  3. Kapre: This tree giant symbolizes guardianship and protection. If you see yourself as a protector, be it for your family or your values, a Kapre tattoo could be a unique way to express it.
  4. Diwata: Diwatas are akin to nymphs or fairies, representing grace and beauty in Filipino folklore. If you value beauty, not just on the outside but within, a Diwata tattoo could resonate with you.

These are just a handful of the countless mythological figures in Filipino culture. Each one carries a unique story and symbolism. As you explore Filipino traditional tattoo art, you'll discover a symbol that speaks to you and your life story.

How to Choose the Right Symbol for You

Choosing the right symbol for your Filipino traditional tattoo art can feel like a tall order. After all, it's a mark that you'll carry for life. But don't worry, it's not as daunting as it seems. Here are some simple tips to guide you:

  1. Identify with your values: The first step is to identify your core values. What matters most to you? It could be family, strength, resilience, love, or freedom. Once you've figured this out, it becomes easier to select a symbol that aligns with your values.
  2. Learn about the symbols: This can't be stressed enough. Take the time to learn about the different symbols in Filipino traditional tattoo art. Understand their meanings and the stories behind them.
  3. Reflect on your journey: A tattoo can be a beautiful way to narrate your life story. Reflect on your journey, your triumphs, your challenges, and how they've shaped you. You'll be surprised at how many symbols resonate with your experience.
  4. Seek professional advice: Tattoo artists are not just skilled craftsmen, they're also well-versed in the symbolism of their art. Don't hesitate to discuss your ideas with them. They can provide valuable insights and guide you in selecting the perfect symbol.

Choosing the right symbol for your Filipino traditional tattoo art is a journey of self-discovery. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and you'll find a symbol that truly reflects you.

Why Respect and Understanding Matters

Choosing to get a Filipino traditional tattoo art is about more than aesthetics. It's a choice that carries with it a rich history, a deep cultural significance, and a responsibility to respect and understand the symbolism involved.

So, why is respect and understanding so important? Here's why:

  1. Preserving Cultural Heritage: Filipino traditional tattoo art is an integral part of the Philippines' cultural heritage. By understanding and respecting this art form, you're helping to preserve and celebrate a rich cultural tradition.
  2. Avoiding Cultural Appropriation: Without understanding, it's easy to unintentionally disrespect a culture. You might choose a symbol that's sacred, reserved for specific rites or individuals. Understanding helps you avoid cultural appropriation and promotes respectful appreciation.
  3. Personal Connection: The symbols in Filipino traditional tattoo art are not just random designs. They tell a story, carry a message, or represent a belief. Understanding these symbols ensures that your tattoo carries a meaning that resonates with you on a personal level.
  4. Authenticity: A tattoo is a form of self-expression. By understanding and respecting the symbolism of your Filipino traditional tattoo art, you're ensuring that your tattoo is an authentic representation of your values, journey, and respect for the culture it comes from.

Remember, a tattoo is more than skin deep. It's a reflection of who you are and what you believe in. So take the time to understand and respect the rich cultural heritage that comes with Filipino traditional tattoo art.

Tips for Getting Your First Filipino Tattoo

Ready to get your first Filipino traditional tattoo art? Great! But before you step into the tattoo parlor, here are some handy tips to help you navigate this exciting journey:

  1. Do your Homework: Invest time in research. Learn about the different symbols, their meanings, and the cultural significance they carry. This will not only help you choose a design that resonates with you but will also show respect for the art form.
  2. Choose the Right Artist: Not all tattoo artists are familiar with Filipino traditional tattoo art. Look for an artist who specializes in this style and understands the cultural significance behind it. They can guide you and help translate your vision into a beautiful piece of art.
  3. Consider Placement: The placement of your tattoo matters. Some symbols may carry specific meanings when placed on certain parts of the body. Discuss this with your tattoo artist to ensure the placement aligns with the symbolism you want to convey.
  4. Prepare for the Pain: Tattooing can be painful, especially if it's your first time. Remember, each person's pain tolerance is different. So, be prepared but don't let fear deter you from getting your dream tattoo.
  5. Follow Aftercare Instructions: Proper aftercare is crucial to ensure your tattoo heals well and retains its vibrancy. Follow the aftercare instructions given by your tattoo artist diligently.

Getting a Filipino traditional tattoo art is a beautiful way to express yourself and pay homage to a rich cultural heritage. Remember, this is your journey. So take your time, enjoy the process, and welcome the art that will become a part of you.