Tattoos as Art Forms (Part One) – No two tattoos are alike

Within a tribe, tattoo art can mean a number of things. For some, the tattoos can protect and guard a tribe, as they are proudly worn by those who belong to the tribe, and most motifs are unique to each different culture. They can also show accomplishments and convey a level of status of the person within the tribe. In the New Zealand Maori culture, the tattoo is a significant part of Maori people’s cultural identity. This sacred art form arrived in New Zealand from the Pacific Polynesian islands. For the Maoris, the sacred art is a rite of passage, and it brings a sense of prestige and pride to the individual. 

No two tattoos are alike, with each one being an original. Maori tattoo art in a traditional sense does not use needles but chisels and knives made from shark teeth, sharp stones or bones. In recent history, tattoo motifs have been gradually becoming increasingly commonly incorporated into artworks that can be found for sale all around the world.

Ndigi World about Whang od Oggay

Apo Wang Od

Photography Credit:

For the Kalinga ethnic group in the Philippines, a strong history and culture exist in regard to tattoos. One particular tattooist Whang-od Oggay who is also called Maria Oggay, has been one of the main people to keep this ancient craft alive. Kalinga tattoos were heading for extinction before
Whang-od started her life’s journey. It was a journey that resulted in her training 20 young girls, including some of her grandnieces, with the traditional knowledge that is necessary to perpetuate the traditions of this art form.

Whang-od Oggay has been tattooing the indigenous people of Kalinga from when she was just 15 years old. When she started her journey with this art form its original purpose was to tattoo the warriors who earned the right to be tattooed from their exploits in killing enemies and protecting the villages. These days the art form is primarily used as more of an artistic medium than a rite of passage, and is even performed on tourists visiting the village of Buscalan. Some days up to thirty tourists are tattooed, and the students she has trained often perform these tasks.

Like the Maori culture tattooists, Whang-od has made a huge impact on Filipino culture. This impact has raised awareness and helps keep the culture, knowledge and traditions of the tattoos of the Kalinga people alive so that the younger generations carry on the traditional culture and the history and culture is communicated and shared with people in and outside of the Philippines.
Without people like Whang-od Oggay and the Tattoo artists of New Zealand that perform tribal tattoos as an art form, tribal tattooing for cultural purposes might have died out long ago