Preview: Skindigenous celebrates the heritage and importance of Indigenous tattoos

People who get tattoos usually do it for a reason. For some, it’s to salute a band or loved one. For others, it’s a way to express a mantra. For the folks documented in Skindigenous, it’s to remember the heritage of Indigenous people around the world.

Debuting Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET on APTN, Nish Media’s Skindigenous is a 13-part adventure that takes viewers into the lives of tattoo artists and their unique culture to discover the tools, techniques, symbols and traditions that shape their art. At its origins among ancient cultures, tattooing was only practiced by those with special standing in the community. Today, modern-day tattoo artists use their art to re-connect with the heritage of their ancestors and to ensure that their stories are not lost.

Gorgeously shot, Episode 1 travels to the green hills of the Philippines to visit a woman and her grandnieces who keep the ancient tattooing tradition alive. Forget the whirring needles and bottles of colour you see in any Canadian city; 100-year-old Whang-Od Oggay (pictured below) and grandniece Grace Palicas practice the hand-tapping technique handed down through generations of members of their Kalinga tribe. Dubbed “the islands of the painted ones,” by Spanish explorers 500 years ago, the Phillippines’ tattooing traditions, as Whang-Od explains, surrounded marking men who killed or wounded opponents during ancient tribal wars.

As narrator Candy Palmater outlines, Whang-Od’s first tattoos were made in the 1940s on those who had fought against the Japanese in the Second World War. Now nature serves as inspiration for Whang-Od’s art via stylized mountains, rivers, centipedes and python scales that signify spirituality and strength. Tattoos in this culture can represent a number of things, including beauty and social status. The show’s producers use CGI brilliantly, showing the intricacies of the tattoo patterns and key locations where they are placed on the body.

Thousands of tourists visit Whang-Od’s small town of Buscalan every year, injecting the local economy with much-needed money. Determined to keep the economy of the area up and continue her art after she passes, Whang-Od has taught grandnieces Grace and Elyang the old traditions. Made from charcoal scraped from the bottom of a cooking pot, placed in a coconut husk and mixed with water and sweet potato, the ink is applied using a thorn of the pomelo tree tapped against the skin.

Upcoming episodes of  Skindigenous travel to Indonesia, Alberta, New Zealand and Hawaii, continuing the stories and art of Indigenous tattoo artists.

Skindigenous airs Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. ET on APTN.

Images courtesy of Nish Media.




Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
Greg David
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