Several cultures around the world were tattooing long before there were electric tattoo machines. Famous Polynesian tribal tattoo motifs are called Tatau, Thailand’s religious script tattoos go by Sak Yant and tattooing by hand in Japan is known as Tebori.

How do you say tattoo/s in  Indonesian?

Tato (and Tatu and Tatau) but, probably thanks to the internet, most people seem to use the English spelling.

The old Indonesian hand tapping tattoo tradition comes from shamans in the Mentawai Islands and people with ancestry in Kalimantan, the Indonesian region of Borneo (about one quarter of the island belongs to Malaysia and Brunei).

How do you say “tattoo” in Indonesian tribal languages? 

Iban: pantang
Mentawai: titi
Kayan: tedak
Kenyah: betik
Penan: purun

Man with Kalimantan tattoos backpiece waterfall in North Bali
Francis Xavier Susanto of Kalimantan Barat enjoys a waterfall in North Bali


Although similar, traditional Asian tattooing techniques are each a distinct practice with different tools, designs and significance. As a group, these are called manual tattoo techniques. The instruments are predominantly sticks carved from wood and few regional tattooing traditions utilize bamboo.

So although it’s technically incorrect…

you can call them bamboo tattoos if you want to.

Bamboo Tattoo Bali black and white
Noe Noe Shadow making a traditional Thai tattoo in Bali, Indonesia.  

What is different about tattooing without a machine?

Instead of using a modern electric tattoo machine, most techniques for tattooing by hand utilize a wood shaft with a tattooing needle affixed to the end. Depending on which tattooing method is used, the end result will have some distinguishing characteristics, but most people can’t recognize the subtle differences.

Electric tattooing

  • Needle moves faster
  • Speed settings and grip give the artist more control and precision
  • High-speed needle movement is abrasive to skin’s surface
  • Ink is deposited evenly into the lipid layer
  • Loud electric buzzing

Manual tattooing

  • Slower and less precise
  • Inconsistent pressure can make a more organic appearance
  • Poking is gentler than a high-speed tattoo machine
  • Healing may be faster
  • Ink is deposited closer to the skin’s surface
  • Quieter, potentially more rhythmic and meditative

Both methods are safe in a hygienic environment with professional tattooing best practices. Some specific models of modern tattoo machines can potentially trap contaminated ink, but then again, archaic tools could harbor certain pathogens in the wood – both are very unlikely but possible causes of increased health risks. READ MORE: GETTING TATTOOS IN BALI

Long ago, traditional tattooing instruments had sharp tips or rakes made of bamboo splinters or animal bones. Now most island-style tattoo tools also employ single-use disposable tattoo needles made of metal. Bamboo is not actually used to pierce the skin and deliver ink, so the unique aspects of getting “bamboo tattoos” are mostly mechanical and experiential.

Hand Tapping and Hand Poking

These two traditional tattooing methods are completely different.

Ubud bamboo tattoo

Cap Bagong Tatu in Ubud, Bali explains both ways on their website like this:

Hand tapping is a method of tattooing originating from Borneo and the Mentawaii Islands. This is a style of tattoo that is completely unique in design, as it is created using wooden tapping sticks. This is done with the assistance of a stretcher, who stretches the skin for this technique. People will describe the hand tapping tattoo experience as a more gentle and meditative experience with only the sound of the tapping sticks.

Hand poking, where the artist uses a stick and needle to create a design dot by dot […] gives a more subtle and delicate result from using a machine. Clients often say that hand poking is less painful and a very different feeling from the tattoo machine. Cap Bagong Tatu, Ubud

Handmade Tattoos in Bali

Bali, Indonesia does not have its own ancient tattooing custom, but Balinese Hindu symbols are popular tattoo designs. SWITCH TO: BALINESE TATTOOS – SYMBOLS, DESIGNS, PICTURES

Hand Tapping
 Fuad of Due Hatue Tattoo Studio has a hand tapped tattoo from Hends Dyak – Bali, Oct. 2018

As a cultural melting pot and welcoming tourist destination

Bali is the center of

Indonesia’s tattoo industry.

If you’re planning a first visit to southern Bali, you might be surprised by the high density of tattoo shops here.  And while the majority of professional tattoo artists use electric machines, there are plenty of places to get ‘bamboo tattoos’ in Bali too.

Bali Tattoo Studios for Hand Poke Tattoos and Indonesian Hand Tapping

Traditional Indonesian tattooing has never been a bigger part of Bali’s evolving tattoo scene. There are more tattoo artists offering handmade tattoos in Bali, Indonesia now than ever before

They are still a tiny minority in an industry dominated by tattooers with electric machines. And they can’t all claim local heritage and they don’t all tout legit education and experience in the field.



A real local expert on Indonesian hand tapping, someone should write a book called ‘Herpianto Hendra “Hends Dyak” and the Pantang Iban Revival.

Seminyak, Bali > Hends Dyak


Ubud Tattoo Studios > Cap Bagong Tatu

sono cap bagong tatu studio
image from

Tattooing since 2005, Sono specializes in 100% unique custom tattoos made by hand tapping. He charges IDR 1,500,000 per hour for hand poking or hand tapping.

He favors dot work and line work to make geometric tattoos, mandalas and other original designs with Indonesian motifs – batik patterns, spiritual and religious symbolism and ancient Javanese script. 



Seminyak Tattoo Studios > Suku Suku Tatau

hand tapping in Bali
image by Albar Tikam

Shop owner, professional tattoo artist, piercer and body modification aficionado, Albar Tikam was one of the first tattoo artists in Bali to give foreigners a chance to experience traditional Indonesian tattooing.

Although it’s no longer the only good place to get a bamboo tattoo in Bali, his studio Suku Suku Tatau is well established and Albar is respected as an expert authority on Indonesian body art history, culture and how-to. Hand tapping starts at IDR 2,500,000 per hour; hand poking starts at IDR 1,500,000 per hour.



Kuta Tattoo Studios > Unyil Tattoo Gallery

Tattooing in Bali for two decades, no question Unyil is legit af. He is a Bali tattoo legend with hundreds (thousands?) of drawings and original tattoos of Balinese Hindu spirits on his Instagram (30K followers, no big deal).

But did you know he also does hand poking with handmade tools? Well, now you do. Don’t be intimidated – he’s just a (really talented) regular guy.

kuta bali hand poke bamboo tattoo by unyil
image from instagram


If you’re interested in getting a handmade tattoo, choose an artist with training and experience. Don’t expect every tattoo studio in Bali to offer hand-made tattoos. They don’t. Many shops which offer bamboo tattooing actually don’t have a specialist manual tattooer on staff, and bring one in from another studio when there are interested customers.

All Studios and Artists

How much does it cost to get a bamboo tattoo in Bali?

Tattooing by hand is charged at a premium rate for two main reasons:

  1. Tattooing with a stick takes much longer than tattooing with an electric machine
  2. The hourly price for bamboo tattooing is higher because it is a specialized skill

Right now a competitive price for hand tapping and hand poking in Ubud, Legian and Canggu is around IDR 1,500,000 per hour.

Need some help? Ask Ningsi now.

External Links

Lars Krutak, Tattoo Anthropologist, is the Western expert on Borneo tattoos, Mentawai tattoos and scarification body art in Papua New Guinea. You may know him from the National Geographic TV series “Tattoo Hunter.” His website has these interesting articles and more:

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