Whang Od: The Renowned National Living Treasure

How much happiness does it bring to a man to have a body modification in a way freedom is well-expressed? With this generation, people diverged in the traditional way of expression through dancing, singing or poetry. Today, most of the young people have chosen to express themselves through the most common form of body revision made by inserted ink, dye or pigments: the tattoo. Long before, indigenous people put tattoos on their body because they believe it possessed spiritual powers and magical qualities that give strength and protection. Further, it is reserved only to the bravest of warriors in ancient periods. In modern times, tattoos are a type of art, where we see in the arms of a man a name of his woman or his mother, or may it be his name, his birthday or anything significant to him. In other places, this also symbolizes masculinity, that’s why we find it most common in men.


In the of the village of Buscalan, province of Kalinga in the Philippines (also known as The Village of Long Life) settles the legendary “mambabatok” or a traditional tattoo artist. A Filipina born on 1918, aged 98 by the name of Whang Od Oggay is presently considered as the last existing mambabatok in Kalinga from the Butbut tribe and is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines. According to some interview about her, a mixture of charcoal and water that serves as ink, and a thorn end of a calamansi or a pomelo tree comprises her tattooing materials. According to tradition, this tattooing skill can only be inherited by lineage. She was not married since she lost her boyfriend at age 25, so there isn’t anyone to continue the legacy. Further research says that the first time she got tattooed was during her teenage years, each of her hands took one day to finish. Her family’s payment for this tattoo work on her was a bundle of rice, and after the tattoo was finished all over her body, the family celebrated and killed a pig for her. Until now, Whang Od is one main reason why people from all over the country travel all the way to Kalinga. For the reason that she is dubbed the last mambabatok in Kalinga, a lot of people are endorsing her to be one of the National Artists of the Philippines. A great treasure she is, and a very limited opportunity to be tattooed by her is offered.


The Philippines has a lot more riches, yet undiscovered by most. By Whang Od’s existence, we get to peak from the past and experience the earliest method of this famous designs we give our bodies now through punctures. The hopes are up that the batok tradition lives on, and Whang Od will live longer. Hence more people will be blessed by her gift. On deep thought, when the day comes that Whang Od does not exist anymore, who else would be able to get this one of a kind and traditional way of getting tattoos?