Whang-od Oggay is a 100-year old Filipina tattoo artist from Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines. She is thought to be the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) from the Butbut people in Buscalan Kalinga and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines.
Traditionally, the hand-tapped tattoos were earned by indigenous Butbut warriors. “Once they’ve killed someone, they are eligible for a tattoo,” explains Whang Od. “Everyone knew when one of the warriors has killed someone because he would announce it to everyone.” And for women? Tattoos were considered an aesthetic accessory.
“Back then they would say: ‘Go get a tattoo so you would look beautiful,’ ” recalls Whang Od of her teenage years, when friends covered her arms and legs in tattoo sleeves.
Now that the warriors have died out, the hand-tapped tattoos are open to anyone. Whang Od sees a steady stream of international clients, etching about eight tattoos a day. Each symbol — ranging from lines to circles, animals and tribal prints — carries a deeper meaning. Some designs represent the mountains or the sun, others fertility and strength. “I like it when tourists and visitors come here because it helps us out [financially],” says Whang Od. “I hope visitors keep coming.”
“I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because [I’m training] the next tattoos masters.” Her secret to living to 100? “I don’t eat canned goods, foods with oil, foods with preservatives,” Whang Od says. “I only eat organic foods like leafy vegetables and beans.”
Visit Whang Od at: https://www.facebook.com/WhangOdKalinga/