This 103-Year-Old Tattooist Is Keeping An Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive

This 103-year-old woman named Whang Od Oggay is the oldest traditional tattoo artist in the Philippines. Whang Od lives in Kalinga province located in the mountainous area in the northern Philippines and is the last mambabatok—a traditional Kalinga tattooist.  This tattoo artist is a well-known master not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well—everyday people from all around the world come here to get a tattoo from the legend herself. And in fact, their journey is far from a short one. Tourists and other visitors have to make a 15-hour drive north of Manila to the mountain village of Buscalan, which is only accessible by hiking from the nearest dirt road through a forest and rice terraces.

People admire Whang Od because she’s the last of her kind to preserve this ancient tattoo tradition

For her traditional hand-poke tattoos, Whang Od uses a thorn from a pomelo tree, a foot-long bamboo stick, coal, and water. The ink that she makes herself is tapped deep into the skin using the thorn and bamboo to push it in. The tattoos she does are permanent and they range from various lines to simple shapes to tribal prints to animals, with meanings such as strength or fertility.

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When this Kalinga tattoo tradition first came about, they were only given to men who have killed someone in a battle. Fast forward to now, these pieces of art are available to everyone who manages to get here.

She’s been giving people tattoos for more than 80 years now!

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The main problem of keeping this tradition alive is the fact that this traditional tattoo technique can only be passed down to blood relatives. The culture believes that otherwise, the tattoos will become contaminated. Even though Whang Od has no children of her own, she’s trained her grandnieces to preserve this tradition.

Image credits: Scott L. Sorensen

“[My friends who gave tattoos] have all passed away. I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because [I’m training] the next tattoos masters,” the tattooist told CNN.

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When asked about her secret to a long life, the tattoo artist told CNN this: “I don’t eat canned goods, foods with oil, foods with preservatives. I only eat organic foods like leafy vegetables and beans.”

Image credits: Scott L. Sorensen

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Here’s what people on the internet are saying about the legendary Whang Od

Image credits: ohnokatherine

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