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The Last Tattooed Ladies in the Land

The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga features a series of black and white portraits by Jake Verzosa. The images celebrate a dying tradition of tattooing in villages throughout the Cordillera mountains in the northern Philippines. “For almost a thousand years Kalinga women have worn these lace-like patterns on their skin as symbols of beauty, wealth, stature and fortitude,” explains the publisher, Steidl, in the press release. The tattoos, called batok, are applied as part of an ancient – and painful – ritual. They often picture abstractions of themes like ferns, rice bundles, centipedes and flowing rivers. The presence of the tattoos “reflect a rite of passage and a powerful bond with nature.”

Today, however, this form of self-adornment has largely been abandoned. In the introduction to The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga, Natividad Sugguiyao writes that the Kalinga’s tattoos embody the personal and sociological aspects of an individual as well as the philosophical ideals of the tribe. “The only link to these practices is found in the indelible ink that adorns the tattooed members of the tribe,” says Sugguiyao, “a number that is dwindling year after year.”

Jake Verzosa (b. 1979, Philippines) is a freelance photographer based in Manila. Verzosa spent his childhood in Tuguegarao, a city adjacent to the province of Kalinga. Between 2009 and 2013, Verzosa documented the last generation of women with the batok to create The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga. A detailed illustrated glossary of the tattoo types and their meanings accompany the portraits.

The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga
Jake Verzosa

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