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Watch: Whang Od, the Kalinga Tattoo maker

Whang-od Oggay (born c. 1918) is a Filipina tattoo artist from Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines. She is considered as the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut Kalinga people and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. Her tattoo ink is composed of the mixture of charcoal and water that will be tapped into the skin through a thorn end of a calamansi or pomelo tree. This ancient technique called batok that dates back a thousand years before her time is relatively painful compared to other conventional techniques. She uses designs found in nature and basic geometric shapes. Due to her status as the last mambabatok, many netizens are lobbying her to be one of the National Artists of the Philippines. Instead of National Artist, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago urged her colleagues in the Philippine Senate through a resolution that Whang-od should be nominated as one of the National Living Treasures or Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, which is equal rank to National Artist.

Whang-od has been tattooing headhunters and women of indigenous people of Butbut Kalinga for more than 80 years. As modern life ensues, Butbut warriors who earn tattoos through protecting villages or killing enemies no longer exist. Whang-od is now applying the traditional art form to tourists visiting Buscalan for a fee. Some of her notable customers include Rhian Ramos and Drew Arellano. There are also foreigners who are eager to have their skin tattooed by Whang-od.

Grace Palicas, Whang-od's grandniece, doing a
facial tattoo and continuing the traditon of batok.
Source: Mawg64, Wikimedia Commons
At the age of 25, she lost her husband in an accident and did not marry since and she has no children. According to tradition, her tattooing skills can only be inherited through lineage. Whang-od believes that if someone outside the bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected. Due to modern living, the young people of her village no longer interested in embracing the tattooing works of their elders. Despite that, she trains Grace Palicas, her grandniece, and Ilyang Wigan, another bloodline successor, to continue her tattooing work. Aside from being a tattoo artist, Whang-od is a respected village elder.

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