Traditional Hand-Tapped Tattoo

Nowadays, tattoos are regarded as a type of body art and it is getting more mainstream compared to before and people are having more positive perceptions of them as a form of art. As we all know, people usually get tattoos for different reasons and the design normally has a special meaning or significance to them. The same is true for the indigenous people of Sarawak, for example, the Ibans and their traditional tattoo patterns.

In a modern setting, tattoos are normally done with a tattoo machine but in Sarawak, there are still traditional hand-tapped tattoos done by local tattoo artists. There will be two people involved in the tattoo process where one person does the tapping and the other will be stretching the area of the skin that is being tattooed. Two sticks are used, one with a needle attached at the end and the other, a plain piece of stick to tap, repeatedly diving the needle into the skin to produce the design. Patience is a virtue when using the hand-tapped technique and this is to ensure precision.

Each Sarawakian tribe has different motifs and meanings behind their own tattoo designs but the hand tapping technique still remained the same. In the past, the tattoo ink would be made from soot gathered from underneath a cooking pot and mixed with sugar cane juice, and processed into tattoo ink or charcoal is used to make the tattoo ink. Nowadays, commercial ink is more commonly used by tattoo artists instead of traditional ink.  

If you are keen to get a traditional hand-tapped tattoo, here are some of the tattoo artists or tattoo studios that you can visit.  In the capital of Kuching, you can visit Ernesto Kalum and his apprentice Robin Unau Gaong or Skrang Tattoo Studio. Tattoos are souvenirs of a lifetime so go check them out and book your next tattoo appointment.

(Ernesto hand-tapping a tattoo-Image taken from

(Hand-tapping tattoo-Image taken from



Talk on Iban tradional tattoo held. New Sarawak Tribune. (2019). Retrieved from

The Fascinating Stories Behind Sarawakian Tribal Tattoos. SarawakTourism. (2020). Retrieved from

Sarawak Travel Vlog: Borneo’s Traditional Hand-Tapped Tattoo - Sarawak Tourism Hornbill Trail Newsletter. Sarawak Tourism Hornbill Trail Newsletter. (2020). Retrieved from

Sarawakian Tattoo - Age Old Tribal Body Art - Holidify. (2022). Retrieved from


July 31, 2022
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