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Life & Work with Julz Bolinayen Ignacio

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julz Bolinayen Ignacio.

Hi Julz Bolinayen, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My second first name is pronounced “boh-lee-nah-yehn”. They say it means “of the moon” or “the woman in the moon,” a name that hails from epics and mythologies of the Itneg and Ilokano people in northern Philippines. My surname is Ignacio, a name I can trace to the coast of Ilocos Sur to a small town called Santiago where my great-grandfather was born and where skilled loom and basket weavers still make magic. I was born south of here, in Kumeyaay territory (Oceanside), to a young Ilokana immigrant. My mother, Emelita, told me how alone she felt birthing me, how she grew up in the Philippines watching my grandmother birth her siblings with the care of local midwives in their barrio. She told me how she’d watch these women care for my Lola Noemi (maternal grandmother) with herbs and traditional rituals. I was born in a hospital, in a place stale and clinical away from everything my mother ever knew.

My father, Julio, is also Ilokano, from the other side of Luzon. He hails from a rural town where my grandparents were rice farmers. My Inang Ambrocia (paternal grandmother) was the mother I really bonded with as a child. She taught me how to cook rice, how to prepare marunggay (these days trending and known as the superfood Moringa) and how to use coconut oil, which she handmade herself each time she went back to the Philippines. My earliest memories were with her until when we moved to Okinawa, an island in the Ryu Kyu Kingdom. This is where I learn what home looks like, feels like and tastes like. It’s important to know how significant it is for me to be in relationship with plants and the ocean. How I inherited this connected, curious and intuitive nature from my family of origin. It’s important to know how the ocean is the only place I am certain to feel peace and alignment. I understand the language of the waves, the reefs, the different textures of rock, sand and shell. The ocean is where I feel freest and it’s where I source a lot of my inner power. When I can’t be nearby, I turn to banana and palm trees, hibiscus and plumerias, flowers and plants that continue to bring me joy and healing from childhood on the islands.

I am only a 33 years old human, but I’ve experienced so many things already in this lifetime. I am a queer non-binary femme, survivor, half deaf/hard-of-hearing, descendent of first-generation Ilokano-American immigrants. I am the grandchild of land stewards, weavers, makers, warriors, voyagers, healers. I’ve learned that being present with grief and moving through it gives us the capacity to expand into a life of possibility and joy. I’ve learned how powerful it is to transform my pain by going through pain. I have experienced that through body modification practices (tattoo and scarification) performed through ancestral ways of ritual can offer a sacred process for grieving and thus transform pain into healing. This is how my ancestors and guides communicated to me that tattooing must be done through ritual – that tattooing is an ancestral healing tradition. This is why I do what I do. I invoke pain and I receive pain in order to heal the pain. I rely on the eco-system of nature and integrate those elements into my work. I work with air by singing ceremonial songs to access spiritual states. I work with energy by centering on the element of water. I am a ritualist who performs healing work through tattoos. And this is the path that led me to becoming an initiated Hilot Binabaylan: a practitioner of Hilot – the traditional healing arts of the Philippines.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Growing up, I always thought I’d become a full-time, traveling, indie singer-songwriter. Singing and composing music brings me great joy and generative energy. A career as a musician is not what the Gods and Goddesses had in store for me. I could tell you all the things I’ve survived: childhood sexual abuse committed by a Great-Uncle in my family of origin, insidious cyberbullying and intimate partner violence in high school by those closest to me, and alcoholism, sexual assault and hearing loss in my 20s. Yes, all those things impacted me and they are reasons why I hold deep empathy, love and care for the people I work with. But I don’t let those things define me anymore. And I no longer lead with pain but rather with grace, compassion and forgiveness. I used to feel sorry for myself. I even loathed myself. I felt myself unworthy of love, healing, joy. It was Spirit, it was my community and loved ones, it was the Gods and Goddesses, my ancestors, guides, and my will to live that kept me alive. It’s my sobriety, my recovery and my ancestral spirituality and healing traditions that keep me going. When I was 23 years old, I learned that tattooing was one of the greatest pre-colonial and still living traditions in the Philippines. I felt a shift inside of me.

When I learned that I could cry, wail, release all the pain I have suffered in my life by receiving tattoo, I knew there was something greater and beyond human existence. I received the call from my ancestors, my guides, the Gods and Goddesses to do this work. That is my honest answer if you are wondering how I came to be. And that is how my teachers confirmed that I had to be initiated. I didn’t ask to become a healer, but I chose to accept this role. I believe everything is fated, and I believe we still have choice. Every single day, I experience great pride and certainty in my lineage and responsibility to this role while simultaneously feeling imposter syndrome. I’ve been on this healing journey for over ten years and it has not been easy. I died many times, spiritually and emotionally. I shed many past selves and birthed new iterations. I learned how important it is to grieve. I learned deep humility in practice. I continue to learn from my dearest mentors and teachers who I want to acknowledge here: Sobonfu Some, Estela Roman, Karina Walters, Angela Angel, Ramona Beltran, Lakay Magbabaya and Apu Adman Aghama. This is not everyone I am grateful to be on this path with, but these are who come to heart and mind as I share at this time. I am a work in progress and the road will never be smooth as I continue this journey.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I am a Hilot Binabaylan (initiated practitioner of “Hilot” which is traditional Philippine healing arts) who specializes in tattoo rituals. I am colloquially known as a “tattoo ritualist” and there are less than a handful of us in the diaspora who provide tattoos in this culturally specific and ritual way. I have offered this work in Duwamish territory (Seattle), the island of O’ahu in the Kingdom of Hawai’i and am now based in Tongva territory (LA). Due to Covid-19, I am not currently offering tattoo rituals nor any Hilot bodywork practices, but I have intentions to open a private practice someday soon to offer this service to community. My current specialties and services based in Hilot are in divination, mediumship, energywork and oracion, all of which I provide virtually. I am also a haranista (one who serenades) and offer the gift of healing through sound by way of serenading.

As a haranista, I do take serenade commissions. These projects are fun for me, as I love courtship, romance and love to compose an original song based on the story of you and your lover(s). I prioritize and center queer and trans love and polyamorous love. As we know, most music does not celebrate the beauty and spectrum of love that exists in queerness, transness and polyamory! From time to time, I like to arrange medleys of popular songs for fun, especially if the songs are unlikely/from clashing genres. You get to see my quirky romantic side when it comes to haranas (serenades). I want more of these projects. Folks can email me if they are interested in a commission. When it comes to Hilot, you’re going to get a more serious version of Julz. As a tattoo ritualist, what I do goes beyond pressing ink into the skin with a needle that invokes pain. I guide people to move through that pain by releasing it through grieving. When we allow ourselves to grieve, we can then begin to experience healing. When people are experiencing pain while receiving their tattoo, I am simultaneously performing energy healing and oracion. It is through the medium of tattooing that the pain is felt and released, then can be transformed into healing.

Through my experience in practicing Hilot and providing tattoos as a ritual, I have the ability to hold the emotional, spiritual and mental capacity that is necessary for performing “tattoo ritual”. This is why I am not a tattoo artist and what I do is not simply tattoo art because “Tattoo Ritual” is healing work. Before embarking on the full journey of tattoo ritual, I have a thorough intake form for folks to fill out. I ask them why they feel called to receive a tattoo in ritual, I ask them to tell me their story. If it’s determined we should proceed in ritual, that’s where the work gets deeper. We start with a Kilubansa reading (a type of Philippine divination that is only practiced by a handful of Hilot Binabaylan). Based on that reading, the placement, motif and specific intentions of healing are determined for ritual. When the day comes, we set an intentional sacred space together with my tattoo doula(s) who support us during the whole ritual, I lead an opening and closing invocation, I invite the recipient to build an altar and place their offerings for their ancestors there, and we follow the flow of ritual in non-linear time.

I tell folks to clear their whole day and leave it open to Spirit. There is no timeframe when it comes to ritual. I am passionate about providing tattoo rituals because I see how inextricably, it is tied to collective healing. The pain that a person is experiencing is not only individual, it is a collective grief. I intimately understand the importance of providing this service to my people – cultural tattooing has survived and evolved over centuries of colonization. Cultural tattooing continues to exist as a living tradition in various iterations through traditional handtap tattooing methods and with modern handpoke methods. My particular role and responsibility of protecting and practicing cultural tattooing for my community is through providing a sacred ritual of healing pain through tattoo, which I simply call “tattoo ritual.” I do not only tattoo people who can trace their ancestry to the Philippines. I tattoo those who are in need of grieving, in need of witness, in need of affirmation, in need of bringing their full selves to the space.

Of course, it goes without saying, I only tattoo motifs that hail from the person’s known ancestry or culture, and things are never that simple. This is why I do Hilot-based divination to discern what we need to know. Ultimately, I am here to be of service to those whose spirits are ready to be in ritual and have made a request to work with me. All of my interconnected communities are seeking connection to their ancestors. They often seek me out because they are desiring connection through receiving cultural tattoos. There is pain in that disconnect, there is pain in the struggle to express emotions, and that pain lives in our bodies. Experiencing deep pain in the body from tattoo surfaces the pain. I guide the energy of that pain to transform into healing energy. I am only the conduit who guides and facilitates the ritual – it is the person’s inner power that is truly transforming their pain into healing.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
I’ll only speak to where I spend most of my time. I love the abundance of plumeria trees and hibiscus bushes in various parts of East LA. I love seeing and supporting the elders who vend fresh veggies and plants, the small business owners running their tiendecitas, the brownness of the neighborhood, the strength and resilience of the community even if it’s exacerbated further because of this pandemic. I still witness laughter, kindness, care and love. What I like least about the city is that it’s too far of a drive to get to the desert and it’s not an island, so the ocean is too cold for this island bb’s liking. I don’t want to even acknowledge the things I truly dislike because why feed my energy to it anyway? Centering instead on the beauty and magic of how I experience this city!

Pricing:

  • $65 – Past, Present, Future reading (45 mins)
  • $180 – Kilubansa reading (1 hour)
  • $220 – Life Path reading (1 hr 15 mins)
  • $65-$350 depending on which gift certificate or subscription (check website)

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Adi Barreto, Oliver Vy Le Nguyen, Alé Abreu

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