102-Year-Old Woman Is Keeping An Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive In The Philippines

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At 102 years old, Whang-Od Oggay (also going by Whang-od or Maria Oggay) is helping to maintain an ancient tradition still alive in the Kalinga province of the Philippines.

102-Year-Old Woman Is Keeping An Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive In The Philippines

At 102 years old, Whang-Od Oggay (also going by Whang-od or Maria Oggay) is helping to maintain an ancient tradition still alive in the Kalinga province of the Philippines. She is the country’s oldest mambabatok, a traditional Kalinga tattooist. Every morning at dawn, Whang-Od wakes to craft a mixture of ink from pine soot and water in preparation to apply hand-tapped tattoos on the bodies of people from across the world.


Many come to see her, although their journey is no small feat. Visitors make a 15-hour drive north of Manila to the mountain village of Buscalan, that’s accessible only by hiking a mile from the nearest dirt road through a forest and rice terraces.


Whang-Od inks many tattoos per day using a few tools—a thorn from a pomelo tree, a foot-long bamboo stick, coal, and water. The handmade ink is tapped deep into the skin using the thorn and bamboo to push it in. The results are permanent motifs which vary from lines to simple shapes to tribal prints to animals. Each one carries meanings such as strength, beauty, and fertility.


The hand-tapped body art started with the indigenous Butbut warriors. For those men, the addition of tattoos had a particular meaning; they could only be inked after killing somebody. On women, though, body art fell within standards of beauty. Whang-Od remembers that during her youth, her friends covered her arms and legs in tattoos. She also began to learn how to apply them to others. At age 15, under the guidance of her father, she began her tattoo apprenticeship. It represented a break in the practice as men were the only ones allowed to learn how to tattoo.


Keeping the mambabatok tradition alive is challenging. The culture believes this art can only be passed down to blood relatives. The tattoos will become infected otherwise. Whang-Od has no kids of her own, but she’s not afraid of the art dying out. She has trained her grandnieces to become tattoo masters of their own.


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Thinking Humanity: 102-Year-Old Woman Is Keeping An Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive In The Philippines
102-Year-Old Woman Is Keeping An Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive In The Philippines
At 102 years old, Whang-Od Oggay (also going by Whang-od or Maria Oggay) is helping to maintain an ancient tradition still alive in the Kalinga province of the Philippines.
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