This 103-Year-Old Filipino Woman Is Trying To Keep This Ancient Tattoo Tradition Alive

Published 4 years ago

103-year-old Whang Od Oggay is the last mambabatok in the Philippines, meaning she’s the last person that still does traditional Kalinga tattoos using an ancient technique. The woman lives in the Kalinga province located in the mountainous northern area of the Philippines and if you think you can just take the bus to reach her, think again. Actually reaching Whang Od is no easy task – you have to drive 15 hours from Manila to the village of Buscalan and then take a lengthy hike through a forest and rice terraces. Now, this might sound like a lot of work just to get a tattoo, but people from all over the world travel thousands of miles just to have a tattoo done by this traditional artist.

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Whang Od Oggay is a 103-year-old tattoo artist that still does tattoos using a traditional technique

Whang Od doesn’t use any fancy tattoo machines – she does all of her tattoos using a hand-poke technique involving a thorn from a pomelo tree, a bamboo stick, coal, and water. The woman makes the ink herself and then uses the thorn and the bamboo stick to push it into the skin – ouch! Her tattoos range from simple ones, like lines and ornaments, to more intricate ones, like animals.

Image credits: lablouseroumaine

The first Kalinga tattoos were only given to men who had killed someone in battle, although nowadays they’re available to anyone.

The woman has been making tattoos for 80 years!

Image credits: deereloj

One of the things that make keeping this technique alive difficult is the fact that it can only be passed down to blood relatives. And even though Whang Od has no children of her own, she has taught her grandnieces.

Image credits: Scott L. Sorensen

“[My friends who gave tattoos] have all passed away. 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 tattoo masters,” said the tattoo artist in an interview with CNN.

Image credits: emily_bren

In a recent interview with Bored Panda, Rajayana Librojo Fajatin, a woman who got a tattoo from Whang Od, said it took her 4 days just to reach the village where the artist lives. “The villagers were friendly, and I had fun, especially with the kids,” said the woman. “They dance to modern hits from a phone there. They respect their elders so much.”

Rajayana said that Whang Od was famous since she was little but her decision to get a tattoo from her was impulsive. “I was in Baguio and I decided to go all the way up north to get to her since she’s pretty old already. But still very healthy. I got a serpent eagle tattoo on my shoulder because I wanted spiritual guidance at the time,” explained Rajayana.

Image credits: Scott L. Sorensen

“For me, Whang Od is the most beautiful woman I’ve seen. The tattooing was not as painful as it was illustrated and lasted for less than an hour. I had it done on my right shoulder. Going down the mountains after getting a tattoo was quite exhausting, but the villagers, even the old women, can do it fastly and smoothly. Overall, a fun and humbling experience!” Rajayana detailed her experiences.

Here’s Rajayana with Whang Od

Image credits: _rajayana

People had a lot to say about this legendary tattoo artist

Image credits: ohnokatherine

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ancient, kalinga, mambabatok, philippines, tattoo, tradition, whang od
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