Prince Giolo: The Pintado Prince

by Andrew "Iñigo" Jaldon on October 13, 2011


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Prince Giolo: The Pintado Prince

Prince Giolo: The Pintado Prince

Prince Giolo (or Geoly), the heavily-tattooed son of  the chief of the island of Moangis near the Philippine island of Mindanao (some believe Moangis to be near present-day Sarangani Province, some accounts state this to be present-day Yap island.), lived quite an exceptional life. Around 1690, William Dampier, a British naturalist, adventurer and in some accounts, a pirate – got hold of the painted young prince from a slave trader. The tattooed Giolo relates that he and his family were captured at sea and were sold into slavery thereafter. He also shared that most of the men and women of his island were tattooed as well.

Dampier described the prince’s tattoos as quite intricate and curious. Giolo was practically tattooed from head to foot. The images above is derived  from a certain John Savage’s etching done in 1962. If you look closer, the patterns on the prince look like a confusion of Philippine, Polynesian and Bornean patterns. Though we must consider the possibility of some slight changes from the actual patterns as the etching was done through the eyes of a Westerner. The ink were apparently of a composition of native leaves and herbs that protected its wearer from snake venom – thus the depiction of serpents fleeing from Giolo. The tattoos did not (at least to western eyes) seem to represent any living thing, but were rather full of patterns and flowing symbols. Below is an account from Dampier’s own words:

“[Giolo] was painted all down the breast, between his shoulders behind; on his thighs before; and in the form of several broad rings, or bracelets, round his arms and legs. I cannot liken the drawings to any figure of animals, or the like, but they were very curious, full of great variety of lines, flourishes, checkered work, etc. keeping a very graceful proportion, and appearing very artificial, even to wonder, especially that upon and between his shoulder blades… He told me that most of the men and women of the island were thus painted.” (William Dampier, A New Voyage Round The World, 1697)

The Western buccaneer decided to take the exotic spectacle that was Giolo back to England and to have him as a sideshow exhibit for profit. He did, however, intend to return to Moangis along with Giolo upon collecting enough profit from the exhibitions in London. An unfortunate series of events led to the parting of Darpier and Giolo. The latter was later sold to opportunists who exploited the Austronesian prince and exhibited him in a Fleet Street establishment called Blue Boar’s Inn . He was later brought to Oxford for examining but died shortly thereafter of smallpox. The Pintado prince from halfway across the world meets a rather sad end. His skin was believed to be preserved in the Oxford Museum for a time. No part of his skin survives today.

Prince Giolo is proof of a long existing tradition of tattooing in the Philippine archipelago. It would be quite interesting to know what Giolo’s tattoos and symbols meant.


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