Double Tap That | Whang-Od
At around and about 100 years old (because no one really knows how old she is), Whang-Od Oggay is the oldest surviving ‘mambabatok’ – the last true tattoo artist.
Traditionally, Kalinga Tattooing has a deeply spiritual connection. For women, they were usually tattooed at marriage, believing that the embellishment to their bodies would last passed death. Gold of rings and fibre of cloth will fade into the dirt, but the tattoos would be seen and recognised by the spirits of their ancestors in the afterlife.
For men, they had to earn their ink. They were given a tattoo when they killed another man in battle. It marked them as a warrior. It marked them with honour amongst their people.
Now, as Whang-Od says … everyone gets tattooed. People from all over the world come to her in her small, remote village, despite the arduous 15 hour drive from Manila and the long, uphill trek on foot to reach her home. It’s a pilgrimage, in a way, a revered and desperate grasp at the last remnants of a dying culture, preserved entirely by this one incredible woman and the great-nieces she is mentoring.
Her ink is crafted from charcoal and water, collected from the soot of the village pots and mixed together with a lump of sweet potato. Her needle is the thorn from a calamansi (lime tree), speered through a foot long wooden stick. Tap, tap, tap – the needle is repeatedly beaten into the skin with a length of bamboo, forcing the charcoal under the skin in traditional patterns and shapes. Infection is to be expected, simply a part of the process that you have to endure. Tattoos here are a gift, something sacred and precious, and getting them should be earned in a way the modern world has forgotten.
It’s an incredible thing to watch and dive into, captured so beautifully and respectfully by the Matador Network. It’s a 25 minute watch, but worth every second of it. Be enveloped in the rich heritage of Kalinga tattoo culture – it’s a fascinating trip.