People Flock To Get Tattooed By This 104-Year-Old Filipino Traditional Tattoo Artist

3 mins read

Whang-Od Oggay, also known as Maria Oggay or Whang-od Oggay, is 104 years old and helps to preserve an ancient tradition in the Kalinga region of the Philippines.

She is the country’s oldest mambobatok, a traditional Kalinga tattooist.

Whang-Od rises at dawn to make ink from pine smoke and water, in order to hand-tap tattoos onto the bodies of others. Their journey is not easy, even though many people come to visit her.

It takes 15 hours to drive north from Manila to Buscalan, a mountain village that is accessible only by hiking one mile through a forest and rice fields.

 

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Whang-Od inks many tattoos per day with just a few tools: a thorn from the pomelo tree and a bamboo stick that is a foot long, water, and coal. To push the ink in, the hand-crafted ink is pressed into the skin with the bamboo and thorn.

Permanent motifs are created. They can be anything from simple lines to complex shapes to tribal prints and animals. Each symbol carries meanings like strength, beauty, fertility, and endurance.

 

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Hand-tapped body art was first created by the native Butbut warriors. Tattoos could only be added to the body by these men after they had killed someone. For women, however, tattoos were acceptable as body art. Whang-Od relates that her friends tattooed her legs and arms in her youth.

This was also when Whang-Od learned how to apply tattoos to others. She began her apprenticeship with tattoos at the age of 15 under the direction of her father. This was a significant break in the tradition, as only men could learn to tattoo.

 

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It is not as easy as you think to keep the mambabatok traditions alive. This art is only meant to be passed on to the next generation. They believe the tattoos could become infected if they are not passed down to the next generation. Whang-Od doesn’t have any children, but she isn’t afraid of the art dying. She has taught her grandnieces how to be tattoo masters.

Whang-Od Oggay, at 104 years, is the Philippines’ oldest mambobatok and a traditional Kalinga tattooist.

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