This Pinoy Tattoo Artist Will Convince You To Get Hand Poke Baybayin Tattoos

It's time to pay attention to an art that is rightfully ours.
PHOTO: (LEFT) Mixi Ignacio, (RIGHT) Courtesy of Ezekiel Oclaray

Tattoos are symbolic and often represent a deeper meaning for someone. Maybe they chose the design because it reminds them of someone special, or they chose a quote that inspires them to keep going. Whatever the reasons are behind tattoos, they're usually well thought of, since tatts last a lifetime. (Especially if they're properly taken care of!)

If you're contemplating on getting a meaningful piece of ink, we suggest considering a design that will pay homage to your Filipino roots: a Baybayin tattoo.

Baybayin is composed of three vowels and 14 consonants, with each consonant originally having "a" sounds. To change the vowels to "e," "i," "o," or "u" a dot or slash is written either on top or below the character. Friars even learned it to teach Christianity during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.

We haven't used Baybayin for centuries now, but one artist is out to resurrect the script through another ancient method: Hand poke tattoos! We were lucky enough to get educated about hand poke tatts by Ezekiel Oclaray of Maharlika Handpoke Tattoo.

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Mixi Ignacio

Ezek went viral in March 2019 when he posted a collection of the Baybayin tattoos he has done on his clients on Facebook. In it, he wrote: "Traditional Hand poked/hand pushed baybayin script tattoo. Mabuhay kayong lahat"

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How did you become interested in hand poke tattooing?

I would say that [tattooing] only started as a hobby. I saw a video on a Facebook fan page where one person was doing the "stick and poke" or "hand poke" technique back in June 2017. After watching that, I became inspired and very interested in doing [hand poke tattoos]. I started from scratch with zero ideas on what materials to use. I did thorough research on how to properly poke skin, techniques on how to make solid, fine lines and dots. It was a trial-and-error process.

I didn't consider myself a tattoo artist before because I started without having any idea about hand poke tattoos.

Mixi Ignacio
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Why did you choose hand poke as your method of doing tattoos? 

Ezek: Because I like the idea of not using any machine. It feels more primal and almost like being back in ancient times, but in a modern way, and that's what makes it more unique. Ang gusto ko [rin] sa hand poke tattooing is na-appreciate nila every bit of piece of art na ginagawa mo kasi hindi siya madali. Matagal 'yung process, kailangan mo ng tiyaga talaga between the client and the artist.

The only difference that I can think of [between hand poke and machine-made tattoos] is the tools that I use. Plus, the process is a lot slower—between one hour [to] eight hours— compared to doing a conventional tattoo. 

'Yung pain level niya, 'yung iba sabi nila less 'yung pain [compared to getting a tattoo via a gun]. As much as possible, I want to make [the session] relaxed kasi meron 'yong maririnig mo na tunog minsan e.

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You specialize in doing Baybayin tattoos. What started your interest in it? 

Ezek: It started when my older brother asked me to learn Baybayin and I tried to combine it with hand poke tattooing. I wanted to promote our pre-colonial writing system and our Filipino culture. [So] in a way, ginagawa ko 'yung gusto ko and na-po-promote ko rin culture natin.

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As long as there are people who appreciate this form of art and they are willing to learn, I won't stop doing it.

Courtesy of Ezekiel Oclaray

What's the difference between tattooing using a machine and the hand poke method?

Ezek: Nung nag-start ako, nag-try ako ng machine and parang mas mahirap i-control siya, considering na motorized siya so may vibrations. E, [I think] ang pinaka-struggle ng tattoo artists is fine lines. Kailangan steady rin kamay mo na kaya mong control yung vibration. 

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Sa hand poke naman kasi, mabagal siya pero madaling habulin 'yung lines in case na magkamali ka. Unlike sa machine na mahirap kasi nagawa na, may lines na siya. Pero kapag sa hand poke, di pa siya ganoon ka-solid.

Courtesy of Ezekiel Oclaray

What's the healing process like for hand poke tattoos?

Ezek: Ang healing niya mas mabilis compared sa machine [kasina-ta-trauma yung skin. [With hand poke] kasi mababaw lang talaga [yung pagpasok ng needle, like half the thickness of a coin], and as much as possible ginagawa kong mababaw. Sinasabi ng [clients] na para lang daw sila tinutusok noong [Pilot] G-Tec pen. So sa healing, 'pag sa machine kasi usually mga two or three weeks bago magbalat 'yung tattoo. Pero 'pag hand poke puwede na siya magbalat on the third day, and after a week puwede ka na mag-swimming. Unlike 'pag machine ang gamit, hindi pa kasi malalim talaga siya.

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What's the aftercare treatment for hand poke tattoos?

Ezek: Same lang sa aftercare ng regular tattoos. What I advise my clients lang is, hayaan mo siya na wala kang ilalagay for three days, wash mo lang with water and mild soap. 'Wag ka maglagay ng alcohol and petroleum jelly. 'Yung iba kasi nilalagyan nila ng petroleum, which is wrong kasi nakakalabo siya ng tattoo. 'Pag may tattoo ka, sun protection talaga kailangan mo. 'Yung direct sunlight kasi makaka-affect din yan sa kulay ng tattoo mo, especially kapag one or two weeks old pa lang. Pero after seven to 14 days and mag-si-swimming ka na, puwede mo naman siya lagyan ng sunblock. 'Yun lang naman ang pinaka-importante e, 'wag kamutin during the healing process, lagyan lang ng binigay na cream, and sunblock na lang.

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Courtesy of Ezekiel Oclaray

How much do you charge clients for your hand poke tattoos?

Ezek: My minimum is P1,000, and for complicated designs, it's P1,800.

Where are you based? Do you accept bookings outside of Manila?

Ezek: I'm currently based in Mandaluyong city but I'm looking for a more accessible and comfortable place somewhere in Cubao. [My business is named] Maharlika Handpoke kasi may baby kami, whose name is Maharlika.

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I am okay with doing bookings outside Manila because I want them (the clients) to experience the art of being hand poked. Not only that but also, I want to influence them to embrace and learn our native script. However, I need to schedule it ahead of time and I have to consider the number of clients.

If you want to schedule a session to get a hand poke Baybayin tattoo done, head over to the Maharlika Handpoke Instagram page to find out!

Follow Ira, Tisha, and Mixi on Instagram.

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