The Vanishing Tattoo

2009 ,    »  -   13 Comments
Ratings: 6.63/10 from 16 users.

Two adventurers are forging their way into country that was home to perhaps the fiercest headhunters the world has ever known. These two Canadians are hot on the trail of some of the last remaining tribal tattoo masters. A small hand cut tattoo of only a few square inches takes many painful hours to pound into the flesh with a needle on a stick. But it's been decades since anyone along the Skrang River has seen this rite performed.

These tattoo hunters won't quit until they witness this vanishing ritual firsthand, even sacrificing themselves to the needles, if they have to, to keep this dying art form alive. Vince Hemington is a writer and now historian of tattoo lore. His partner, with the full body tattoo, is renowned tattoo artist Thomas Lockhart.

Tom's been tattooing for a quarter of a century, while Vince is relatively new to the tattoo world, and what better place to start than Borneo. Borneo is the largest land mass between Australia and Asia, and it's about as far from home as two Canadians can get. At just a single degree north of the equator, Vince and Thomas couldn't have picked a much hotter place either.

Early explorers to Borneo told fabulous tales of incredible sites, none more frightening than the fabled wild man of Borneo. But the arrival of Europeans in the 19th and 20th centuries began to take the wild out of the warrior and the magic out of the indigenous culture. Some of that magic was tied up in tribal tattoos, marks so sacred that without them the people would become invisible to their gods. Just like those early explorers, Vince and Thomas head eastwards from Kuching along the edge of the South China Sea.

They thought they'd probably lose their bearings at some point on their three-week journey, but not that soon. Heavy smoke from forest fires on the Indonesian side of Borneo has completely obliterated the horizon. Placing their trust in the captain, they join in the only thing they've forgotten to do, pray for a safe passage.

They're not sure what gods they're invoking, or whose protection they're seeking. But since they'll be heading up a river once known as the River of Death, they figure they'll need all the help they can get. This part of the journey ends 50 kilometers up the Skrang River at Pais. There, they've arranged to rendezvous with two brothers whom Thomas has often met at tattoo conventions around the world, Eddie and Simon David.

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13 Comments / User Reviews

  1. dmxi

    great topic...not just because i'm heavily inked my self but it's deep in our own cultural roots,a lost tradition through civilization.

  2. Walter Crawford
  3. Walter Crawford

    Excellent documentary and very original. Thank you.

  4. sebastien972
  5. sebastien972

    There hasn't been great new documentaries on TDF for a long time. Finally, this is one a beautiful and refreshing film presenting a formidable culture and the testimony that there is still hope regarding the survival of our planet's rich diversity.

  6. idealpointer
  7. idealpointer

    would have to agree, seeing I don't have a tattoo at all.

  8. Bozman419
  9. Bozman419

    Apparently you missed the Anna Nicole Smith doc. Or how about the cuddly Tarsiers? Certainly a title like "Ballet, Sweat and Tears" can't be looked passed. :)

  10. sebastien972
  11. sebastien972

    Perhaps I should embrace my own message and open myself to a richer diversity of documentaries. Thank you for your inspiration.

  12. dewflirt
  13. dewflirt

    I missed the tattoo boat but I do love to see them. Ultimate war paint :)

  14. johnconnolly25
  15. johnconnolly25

    Every idiot on the planet is covered in mostly hideous or moronic drawings, wouldn't they be better self harming with stanley blades? They're usually dead straight types of people too, nothing to excess.

  16. Borneo Voyager
  17. Borneo Voyager

    2m41s: Balinese music ... definitely not music originally from "Borneo"

  18. Pysmythe
  19. Pysmythe

    Most definitely Balinese.
    (stops at 2:49)

  20. TheDanishViking
  21. TheDanishViking

    This doc is meant to be serious, right? Sorry - but to me this doc is so bad I wasn't sure if they were actually joking.

  22. joe
  23. joe

    Good documentary. Too bad some people focus on the music (which is regional and not strictly Balinese) or the quality (not a big budget so get over it). The message is about what is happening to a vanishing art form and skill. Look at the message. Not the vehicle it was delivered with.

  24. Jimmy Owen Jones
  25. Jimmy Owen Jones

    Hey, just wondering if any one could point me in the wright direction. i am a student at London College of Fashion looking to interview or contact the guys and fined out more about there experience of tattooing because i am doing a pice on tattoo history and how it has changed and become more of a fashion statement. if any one can help please let me know

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