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March 3, 2013

whang od: kalinga's last mambabatok

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

She's probably the main reason why people from all over make the trek to this little village called Buscalan in Kalinga. She looks far more younger than her actual age, and at 92 years old, Whang Od is keeping her people's tradition of "batok" (tattoo) alive.

Whang Od (or Fang Od) is from the Butbut tribe of Kalinga. Nowadays most refer to her as the "last mababatok of Kalinga" (last traditional tattoo artist). Although many may argue that there are still living tattoo artists in Kalinga, she certainly is the most known figure still practicing the art.

Gone are days of headhunting and tattooed warriors. The tattoos were once reserved for the bravest of warriors - those who actually killed enemies in combat. Today some of the traditional marks are tapped into the skin of those who make the pilgrimage to Buscalan. Certain patterns are still reserved for the warriors.

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

During the couple of days that we stayed there (I slept in the veranda of Whang Od's house), I saw her work all day, stopping only for a few hours for the tattoo recipient to recover. The process is painful, an hour into it  and the bravest of the brave can be seen flinching from pain.

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok
Whang Od working on a centipede pattern

Whang Od's kit comprised of pine soot and water for the ink and a citrus thorn for the needle. The needle is attached to the end of a small stick. Whang Od uses a hand tapping method, similar to other traditional tattooing methods,  but with the distinction of "back-handing" the stick.

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

A pattern is laid out first on the skin using a thin grass stalk to mark the lines. Whang Od then starts to methodologically tap along the lines. It may take two or more passes before Whang Od is satisfied that the pattern have been properly etched. Sometimes the tattoo can be done in one sitting, but most often the tattoo  recipient comes back after a few hours or the next day for the finishing touches.

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

Lonely Planet guidebook toting tourists have found their way to Whang Od's doorstep. Whang Od worked on a Danish couple during our stay there.

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

Whang Od (Fang Od): Last Mambabatok

There is hope that the art will not be lost when Whang Od's generation of tattoo artists is gone. Nowadays, 16 year old Gelles ("Grace") is picking up the craft from her great aunt (Whang Od is single).

Whand Od and Gelles
Whang Od and Gelles

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Gretchen Filart Dublin said...

I was able to watch the "Ang Huling Mambabatok" documentary a few years back and it's saddening that the self-perception of princesses and warriors of Kalinga are being influenced and downgraded by OUR perception of what's beautiful and socially acceptable. My hope is that the batok tradition lives on, and Whang Od will live longer pa so more people will be blessed with her gift.

Wonderful portraits as usual, sir. You capture the soul in each photograph :)

bertN said...

She is 92 years old (she looks young for her age) and still practices her craft - amazing!

Lantaw said...

Thanks Gretchen. I do hope that the tradition will live on too, in the hands of the new generation like Gelles.

Lantaw said...

We took photos of the tattooed women, and you wouldn't believe that most of them are in their late 80s and 90s. There was one who was, I think, 104 years old and she is still strong.

Christian Arvin B. Damian said...

may i know kung saang banda ng kalinga? gusto kasi namin ng wife ko magpatattoo sa kanya

Milet Miranda said...

Amazing photos as usual :)

Lantaw said...

Thanks Milet!

Lantaw said...

Hi Christian, its the village of Buscalan in Tinglayan. From Bontoc there are jeeps and minibuses heading to Tabuk or Tinglayan. Get off at Bugnay. You can then hike from Bugnay to Buscalan. If you bring a car you can park at Southern Tinglayan National High School. From there its about 30-45 minutes hike to the village

Christian Arvin B. Damian said...


PamBri said...

Were you able to get a copy of the meaning nung centipede?? I had mine done a couple days ago. And all i remember is "guide" siya. Any chance?

Lantaw said...

Its supposed to be a "protection" (or guide as you mentioned), especially for people who are always travelling

emil garbin said...

Hi I'm Emil. Right now I'm taking up Multimedia Arts.
My problem is that my topic proposal for my pre-thesis is on hold.
My professors actually love my topic since it's unique.
But they're just afraid that my subject (w/c is WHAG OD) might already be dead since I discussed them that she's already on her 90's.

What they want me is to get an assurance that I can interview her and my other prospects on the area by asking for their consent.

Any comments, suggestions, and answers please.

Since I don't want my time and resources to be wasted. I really want to assure that she's still alive and if she's approachable, open and willing to be interviewed for my video documentary.
And do they also know how to speak Tagalog?

Thanks so much!

CONTACT ME : 0927-706-8683 / / twitter: @suhomil

Hyaeth Montejo said...

Nice blog and pix! We're planning to go there to get inked soon..

Lantaw said...


Anonymous said...

hi! do i still need to hire a guide going to buscalan or from bugnay i can hike to bbuscalan by just following the beaten path? thanks for the reply...

Lantaw said...

You can hike there without a guide, there is only one trail heading to buscalan

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Whang-od? or Fang-od?

Lantaw said...

Spelled with"Wh", pronounced as 'F'

Anonymous said...

oh I want to have one too with Apo Fang-od, ang ganda ng mga designs. real art, such a masterpiece! :) - JL Dhee

ujin said...

pasabit naman mga sir/ma'am sa mga may plan umakyat ng Buscalan. thanks

Anonymous said...

i wonder why is she wearing a skirt of people from Mountain Province... :/

inali ciro said...

Are all of her tattoos centipedes ??

inali ciro said...

Are all of her tattoos centipedes ?

I apologize if this message is sent multiple times.

Istvan Punzalan said...

May I know how much is a tattoo from Apo Whang Od? Thanks :)

Istvan Punzalan said...

May I know how much is a tattoo from App Whang Od?

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