Tattoos as Art Forms (Part Two) – My Buscalan Escapade with the Butbut Tribe

May 20 – 21, 2022

Since I started working for NDIGI my interest in indigenous art and artists has grown considerably. One artist that has been front of mind for me is the Philippine indigenous tattoo artist Maria Oggay from the tribe of Butbut in Buscalan, Kalinga. For this reason, I planned a trip to visit Buscalan and get my very own piece of art in the form of a tattoo.

After a twelve-hour journey, I arrived in Kalinga, and for the very first time, I saw the famous elderly woman tattoo artist “Maria Oggay or Wang Od ” from the tribe of Butbut. She lives high up in the mountains of Buscalan, a small village far north of the bustling capital of Manila in Bontoc province. Here also resides the last of the native Kalinga mambabatok who is 105-year-old.

All page images use this 1200 x 800 39

They live a simple and quiet life there, predominantly eating rice. There is no pollution, the air is clean, you can hear the crickets chirping at night and the climate is cold. Many indigenous people live there. There is a small school for children, a clinic centre, and they also have a leader in their village.

On the first day of my stay with the tribe, I mingled with the people and the children. They are happy to see a new face. I also met and interacted with the young artists of Apo Wang Od. The more they carry out tattoos the better artists they become. For that reason, I didn’t hesitate to get a tattoo. Now, for the first time in my 35 years of life, I have had my first tattoo. It was a bit painful in the beginning, but as time went on, it felt much better, and the pain was bearable. Looking at it objectively if I was able to do it, I am sure you could as well.

Their tattooing is very traditional and uses relatively basic tools. The tattooing tools consist primarily of:
▪ crushed charcoal with a little water
▪ lemon thorns, and
▪ small stick.

On my second day, I looked for the children early, because I had candies and biscuits for them. Because of the distance of the climb, the limited weight I could carry and the size of my backpack I could only carry enough gifts for about 20 children. The children gathered around me, and I gave each child either a can of drink or a lolly and it was wonderful to see the happiness on their faces.

While the young artists are very good at tattooing, they are also good at making traditional clothing and other indigenous items and accessories associated with their tribe. Luckily, I had a chance to be able to wear the traditional dress you see in the picture above which truly shows the beauty of their work. But I hope by making artworks, we can buy there like tattooing, or handmade accessories, in that way we can support them to develop their tribes.

As the day wore on it was time to get out of the traditional dress and head home. Being a hilly area subject to lots of rain it was a wet and slippery downhill journey, but it was well worth it, and I have a tattoo to remember this amazing experience permanently.

At NDIGI we are very passionate about supporting the promotion and preservation of indigenous art and cultures. We are dedicated to supporting artists in having a very real place in the Metaverse that can create an immersive experience that engages, educates, and excites people to learn about and support indigenous communities globally.

~ Anna ~