Apo Whang-Od Featured on Cover of Vogue Philippines


Not too long ago Apo Whang-Od was unknown outside of her small village in the Philippines. In near anonymity she was one of the last mambabatok, the term for a tattoo artist among the Kalinga people. Whang-Od was not only thought to be one of the final practitioners of the art, but she was the first women to take up the art. Fast forward a little more than a decade and the centenarian tattoos is on the cover of Vogue Philippines. 

It is so remarkable to see Whang-Od on a magazine cover. Sure, there’s a little sting that Vogue Philippines beat us to it, we really should have been the ones to do it, but our travel budgets are pretty tight. 

As the world learned about the elderly woman still cranking out tattoos, her story turned into a sensation. The village she lives in has become a tourist destination for people looking to get a tattoo by a living legend. Audrey Carpio, the author of the piece, perfectly describes the experience: 

When she finishes with the client, it is the Vogue team’s turn to get tatted. First is Sela Gonzales, the photographer’s assistant and the only one of us who could communicate with her in Ilocano (Whang-Od doesn’t speak Tagalog or English). An aide procures an unused gisi, a bamboo stick with a thorn attached to one end, while Whang-Od traces the pattern on Sela’s arm using a length of grass dipped in the soot and charcoal mixture. Holding the inked gisi in her left hand, she uses a larger stick to whack it with her right hand, driving it over a hundred times per minute into the flesh until the three dots are filled and oozing with blood and ink. She dabs at them with a wet wipe before deciding to go over the freshly wounded spots again for good measure. Aray.

“When visitors come from far away,” Whang Od says in the Butbut language, “I will give them the tatak Buscalan, tatak Kalinga for as long as my eyes can see.”

Whang-Od’s story is amazing and we highly recommend checking out the entire piece. 


Choose your Reaction!
Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.