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Vogue cover celebrates 106-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist keeping alive a 1000-year-old legacy

Whang-Od is famous for her traditional tattooing method known as Batok, where a sharp thorn is attached to a stick and dipped in a soot-based ink.

Vogue cover celebrates 106-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist keeping alive a 1000-year-old legacy
Image Source: Youtube/News Now

Apo Whang-Od, an indigenous Kalinga woman and renowned tattoo artist, is creating history by becoming the latest cover model of Vogue Philippines at the age of 106. Also known as Whang-Od, she comes from the small mountain village of Buscalan and is renowned for her traditional tattooing method known as Batok. It is a technique where a sharped-thorn is attached to a stick and dipped in a soot-based ink. It is then rapidly tapped on the skin with a wooden mallet and a hand-made stencil. According to Vogue, she has been practicing this art form since she was a teenager, using a sharp stick and charcoal soot. Her popularity has helped put her town on the map, attracting tattoo enthusiasts and tourists to her rural community.


It was not until about 15 years ago that Whang-Od's reputation and clientele expanded beyond the Cordillera region, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world who sought the unique and exquisite pain of the soot-stained thorn. In addition, she has trained her grand-nieces, Grace Palicas, 26, and Elyang Wigan, 23, to carry on her legacy as mambabatok, reported TODAY. Grace told Vogue, "I was the first child to learn how to tattoo. I just observed what she did. When I left for college in 2015, Elyang was next to learn so that she could help Apo when so many tourists were coming."


Vogue Philippines announced the cover while writing on Twitter, "Apo Maria 'Whang-Od' Oggay symbolizes the strength and beauty of the Filipino spirit. Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe signifying strength, bravery & beauty on the skin." As we reported earlier, Whang-Od's skilled hands are keeping the 1000-year tradition of batok alive, which is currently a dying craft as people now prefer vibrant inks and different technology over the thick black ink and tribal designs of Batok.


Whang-Od said in 2016, "Tattoos are one of our greatest treasures. Unlike material things, no one can take them away from us when we die." Whang-Od, who now only gives her signature three-dot sign-off on her grand-nieces tattoo work, has expressed to Vogue her intention to continue her art for as long as she can. She said, "When visitors come from far away. I will give them the tatak Buscalan, tatak Kalinga for as long as my eyes can see."

Grace has been under Whang-Od's tutelage since she was 10 years old, learning the vast collection of ancient designs and developing the coordination and finesse required to tattoo at a rate of 100 taps per minute. She said, "For Grace to become a good mambabatok, she will need passion and patience." Fortunately, she shares her great-aunt's devotion to the tradition and aims to sustain it beyond Whang-Od's time. She said, "I want to continue the Kalinga traditional tattoo. When Whang-Od passes on, I am here to take care of our Kalinga traditions, to keep them remaining for the people, and to not forget our culture."




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