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Maria Oggay is also known as “Whang-Od” is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines and the last living mambabatok, which is a traditional Kalinga tattooist. She lives in the small town of Buscalan, in the mountains of Kalinga, creating tattoos since she was just 15.

In Kalinga tradition, the warriors had to earn their right to be tattooed. Each design carried a very important symbol, representing their rank or an act of bravery. Even now, there are some specific tattoos that Whang-Od refuses to tattoo on tourists, because they belong only to the Kalinga culture. The tattoo is done with the help of a pomelo thorn that is attached to a bamboo stick and then hammered into your skin. In a coconut shell, charcoal and water are mixed and used as ink.

Years later, when Whang-Od decided to pass on her legacy, she chose as apprentices only women, breaking again the tradition. Since she doesn’t have children of her own, she took under her wing her two grand nieces: Grace and Elyang.

Nowadays, Whang-Od will mostly do only her signature tattoo. She used to have more signatures, but since 2017 she uses three dots that represent herself and her two apprentices: Grace and Elyang.

Whang-Od Oggay, the last mambabatok of Buscalan, Kalinga and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines, has been formally nominated for the Gawad sa Manglilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasure Award last Oct. 20 at Manila FAME at the World Trade Center Metro Manila, Pasay City.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) officially gave the acclaimed tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od the 2018 Dangal ng Haraya Award for Intangible Cultural Heritage. The official awarding took place at Kalinga Capitol Plaza, Tabuk, Kalinga, which is her hometown.

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Maria Oggay

Story Told:  Bringing awareness to a form of traditional tattooing

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