Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

An Ethnography of Pantaron Manobo Tattooing (Pangotoeb): Towards a Heuristic Schema in Understanding Manobo Indigenous Tattoos

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

An Ethnography of Pantaron Manobo Tattooing (Pangotoeb): Towards a Heuristic Schema in Understanding Manobo Indigenous Tattoos

Article excerpt

I Introduction

A systematic anthropological documentation of the pangotoeb, the indigenous tattoo practice of the Manobo from the Pantaron highlands (Fig. 1) of southern Mindanao, Philippines, is yet to be done. The present paper is a contribution towards this direction. It reviews the available historical accounts of the tattoo, from the earliest available records dating to the late nineteenth century, up to more recent documentation in ethnographies and visual media. The article will also present firsthand ethnographic data from interviews and observations regarding the present tattooing practice of the Manobo along the Talomo River and Simong River in Talaingod town, Davao del Norte Province, and the Salug River in San Fernando town, Bukidnon province. The data this article presents include what the designs of the tattoos are and their meanings, where they are placed on the body, and what reasons the Manobo give for their tattooing. Interviews with tattoo practitioners1) also reveal that the Pantaron Manobo tattooing technique of incising is unique from the other indigenous tattooing techniques in the Philippines, and perhaps Southeast Asia.

The initial aim of this research was to fill in a gap in the ethnographic description of indigenous tattooing practices in Mindanao. Unlike the tattooing practice of various groups in the Cordilleras of northern Luzon (e.g. Salvador-Amores 2013; 2002; Wilcken 2010), Mindanao tattooing has not yet been the focus of a systematic ethnographic study. In the course of developing this ethnographic description, the study evolved further interpretive directions. Meaningful connections between the tattoos and other daily objects that link them to other aspects of Manobo life began to emerge from the interviews and observations. It is this network of associations that the final section of this paper explores, forwarding them to be local "systems of representation" (GeirnaertMartin 1992, xxviii), or "metaphors for living" (Fox 1980, 333) that may be used to describe or make sense of tattooing's place in Pantaron Manobo society. This direction is similar to what Schildkrout (2004, 328) would describe as a "Levi-Straussian" perspective which saw body art as "a microcosm of society" that represented ideas of spirituality, social status, hierarchy and leadership, and gender and kinship relations.

Godelier (2018, 479-484), in his recent comprehensive assessment of Levi-Strauss's structural approach still emphasized the value of analysis guided by the Levi-Straussian keywords of "structure" and "transformations," and reiterated the continuing importance of pursuing inquiries about enduring "cognitive schemas" for the present twenty-first century social science agenda. Departing from classical structuralism, this research has been open to closely listening to local, subjective views, and paid attention to what focal images surfaced in discussions of Manobo tattooing, and how they resonate with other domains of activities. In presenting a heuristic model that may guide further studies, this paper also follows Mosko's (2009 [1985], 1; cf., Salazar 1968) suggestion to continually explore the "analytical validity of indigenous categories" while remaining aware of the dynamism of the Pantaron Manobo as a group affected by current global economic and political forces.

I-1 Collecting Manobo Tattooing Information

The ethnographic data presented here was collected in the period between 2007 and 2015. Prior to 2013, only initial observations about the tattooing were done as these were field visits that were not centered on investigating tattooing. Data was more systematically collected from 2013 until 2015 through directed interviews with pangotoeb practitioners, recipients, and other knowledgeable persons in the community, such as elders, leaders, and epic chanters. The main field site of the study were the villages located along the Talomo River (see Fig. 2 and Fig. 3 for location maps), but visits and interviews were also conducted in villages on the Salug and Simong Rivers. …

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