The Pintado’s Project
A documentary on the Philippines tattooing culture, traditions, and heritage.
“Driven to discover her roots and ignite a cultural revolution amongst future generations of Filipinos, a Filipina-American woman and her friends set off on a journey through ancient traditions and cultural taboos to uncover the legacy of the lost Pintado Warriors, her family’s ancestors.”
The Pintados Project is collaborative documentary film dedicated to preserving Filipino cultural heritage. The project follows Filipina-American photojournalist, Heather Fassio, and a small group of trusted friends as they seek to find and document what remains of pre-colonial traditions by learning from individuals and participating in practices that bridge past and present.
The film is an exploration into Filipino identity and spirit, taking an intimate look at this culture through the eyes of individuals who are using ancient traditions as modern-day expressions of cultural pride. Heather Fassio, director of the film, protagonist, and Filipina-American, shares her personal quest and discovers she is not alone in her desire to connect with her roots and that there is a growing revival and resurgence of interest amongst her generation of Filipinos born abroad who wish to identify with their heritage.
As she begins the hunt for cultural treasures, she discovers uncanny personal connections that link her directly to one of the most ancient traditions that the pre-colonial Filipinos practiced: tattooing. She joins forces with members of the Mark of the Four Waves, an organization dedicated to the preservation, education, and revival of these native practices and through them learns that venturing back to her mother’s village is not just an exercise in self-discovery—her own family tree is a map that leads back to the place where centuries ago the greatest loss of culture first began: the region where the Spaniards first encountered her ancestors, a painted tribe of warriors known as “The Pintados”, the Painted Ones.
Amidst a stunning island backdrop, Heather and a small crew of friends set off from Manila to Tacloban to discover for themselves what remains of this striking visual marker that the Pintados once bore. By retracing part of the route that the Spaniards and others followed when they first arrived in 1521, the crew recreates the wonder of discovery, experiences the physical and emotional challenges of the journey and the destination, and brave the dangers of heading into the unknown.
Their quest takes them to the far reaches of the nation and leads them deep into the northern mountains of Luzon to seek out the last living tattooist of the Kalinga headhunting tribe, a 94 year old woman named Whang-Od, contrasting this more isolated region with the cultural loss experienced in the Visayan Islands.
At its core this film deals with the realization that our identity is not solely based on where we’re from, but is shaped as much by where we go and beliefs that are imposed upon us. It highlights the inter-connectivity we all share to a place, a specific point in time, as well as to family, friends, and community. It celebrates the desire to live life to the fullest tempered by the acceptance that these experiences will become forever imprinted upon us in unexpected ways; time and again, we discover that with the wind comes new hopes and new beginnings.
Before the Americans, before the Japanese, before the Spanish… there were the Pintados.
Nearly 500 years ago the Philippines, the 7,107 island archipelago that lies between mainland Asia and the great Pacific Ocean, was known by another name. The conquistadors who claimed the island nation declared it “the Philippines” in honor of their Spanish king, but amongst those who had traveled to this beautiful and exotic land, it was known as “La Isla de Los Pintados” (Island of the Painted Ones) after the peculiar practice the locals had of adorning themselves—their entire bodies laced with intricate designs embedded into their skin.
To the locals, these markings were an outward symbol of status, beauty, family, and pride. They represented an individual’s personal journey and accomplishments, a public testimony inscribed onto their flesh recounting acts of combat, bravery, and strength. The more tattooed the warrior, the more revered.
To the Western Imperialists the tattoos were savage and a constant reminder that these were a people who needed saving, taming, governing and that their country was a gateway and means to proliferate their own wealth, status, and establish dominance in the region and subsequently throughout the world.
Very little remains of the original legacy of the Pintados, what’s left is referenced in the Boxer Codex, c. 1590, one of the few original visual records the Spanish kept to document their encounters with the native population.
Living testaments of the Pintados have all but vanished and today many Filipinos have immigrated abroad experiencing varying degrees of success in their quest to seek a better life. Like the Pintados of old, some are still judged by their skin and centuries of migration and assimilation have fragmented their own culture, however, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest amongst the younger generation of Filipino diaspora that have been born or are living abroad.
For more information, check out the Pintado’s Project’s site.
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