Revered Kalinga tattoo artist Whang-od Oggay was awarded the prestigious Dangal ng Haraya Award for Intangible Cultural Heritage on June 25, a feat which was praised by many Filipinos online.
Apo Whang-od, recognized as “a living vessel of a traditional practice,” is the first traditional or folk artist who was given the award.
The elderly tattoo artist now joins the esteemed roster of national cultural heritage recipients, which include late Senator Edgardo Angara, former National Museum director Jesus Peralta and late architect Augusto Villalon.
Tourists from all over the Philippines and around the world have traveled to Buscalan, Kalinga to be inked by Apo Whang-od in the nearly forgotten ancient art of Kalinga tattooing.
Whang-od’s popularity and significance
Since she was 15 years old, Whang-od, whose real name is Maria Fang-od, had been marking her customers with a mixture of charcoal and water into their skins.
This was traditionally done for her tribe’s head hunters or warriors for their bravery and to women for aesthetics.
Many people deemed it an honor to be tattooed by Whang-od, being considered to be the oldest mambabatok (Kalinga tattooist) and only one of the few Kalinga women who have full body tattoos.
American anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak featured the master tattooist in a documentary series in 2009 called “Tattoo Hunter” catapulting her rural hometown into a popular tourist destination today.
According to the New York Times, the number of tourists in Kalinga rose from 30,000 in 2010 to 170,000 in 2016.
The tattoo artist’s relatives said that Whang-od could earn as much as P5,000 a day given the stream of tourists.
Despite her popularity, preserving the rich Kalinga art faces many setbacks.
Based on Kalinga tradition, the master tattooist could only pass on the batok tattooing to blood relatives to prevent getting the tattoos infected by others.
Being that she never married, Whang-od had been teaching her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas to take her place one day.
Many people had also campaigned for her to be given the national artist award on social media to help Whang-od and the Kalingas save their culture.
In 2015, the Kalinga provincial board member Alonzo Saclag, Jr. also nominated her for the National Living Treasures Award or Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan.
Being a GAMBA awardee would “ensure the transfer of their skills to others and undertakes measures to promote a genuine appreciation of and instill pride among our people about the genius of the Manlilikha ng Bayan.”
Finally,Apo Whang-od receives #DangalNgHaraya :Cultural #Heritage Award by @NCCAOfficial given to living Filipinos for achievements in their respective fields of contribution to Philippine #Art & #Culture
— Yum (@I_am_Iamne) June 26, 2018