The Boxer Codex: Visayan Pintados

by Andrew "Iñigo" Jaldon on November 14, 2011


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Visayan Pintados

Visayan Pintados

The iconic “Visayan Pintados” of the Boxer Codex (c. 1595), is just one of the very few surviving documentations of early Filipino tattoos. It was believed to have been commissioned by the Spanish Governor General Gomez Perez das Mariñas. He fell victim to a mutiny involving Sangley (Filipino-Chinese) pirates in 1593 and lost his life. Upon completion of the manuscript, his son Luis Perez das Mariñas, took hold of it. It is believed to have been illustrated by a Chinese artist based on the style and medium used.The manuscript was then found in the possession of Lord Ilchester. In 1942 his London estate, Holland House, was hit by a German air raid. His extensive collection of Far-Eastern artifacts and manuscripts were destroyed, very few were left undamaged, this includes the now famous Boxer Codex. The manuscript got its name from a professor specializing in Far-Eastern culture named Charles Ralph Boxer, who acquired it in a 1947 auction. The manuscript is now in the collection of the Lily Library at the Indiana University.

Containing over 75 illustrations of Far-Eastern peoples, including 15 illustrations depicting Filipino tribes namely the Cagayanes, Zambals, Negritos and Visayans – the manuscript must have served as a report to be submitted to Spanish colonial officers.

The illustration of the Visayan Pintados depict two heavily-tattooed men with tattoo patterns that share similarities to Polynesian, Micronesian and Austronesian tattoos. Some believe that the floral patterns were based on early chinese pottery that the Filipino natives acquired through trading. Some patterns also shared some similarities to Ilocano weaving. It is also debated as to whether the two illustrations depicted the same man in different poses.

Geometric/triangular patterns behind the men could have been a representation of crocodile scales, python scales or a even a river. It is still unclear as to what the patterns actually represent. The crocodile scales and python pattern angles though, in my opinion, are more likely. They seem to also have similarities with the tattoo patterns of the Igorots and the other tribes of the Cordilleras. It is possible that in pre-colonized South-East Asia, tattoos were prevalent, and the dispersion of symbolisms and patterns were brought about through the rampant trading among the South-East Asian and East Asian peoples.

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