Apo Whang-Od, 99, is known to be the Last Mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist) of the tribe.Many people, locals and foreigners, would brave the mountains of Tinglayan, Kalinga to experience having a tattoo the Whang-Od’s way. FYI it’s pronounced as Fang-Od.
I can still recall my experience in Buscalan in details! After having lunch around 2PM, we decided to drop by Apo Whang-Od’s tattoo site, which is just a few minutes down from the Buscalan Elementary School, for a quick group pic with her. There was a long queue by the time we got there. There were 4 foreigners waiting since lunch time and other local travellers.
I was really, really starstruck upon seeing her. I don’t wanna sound OA, but I was in the verge of crying for I was super overwhelmed by her presence. I was like, OMG she’s just a few inches away. We’re breathing the same air!!
As you may have already heard, this traditional way of getting inked is very unhygienic. She uses pomelo thorn as needle, which is disposed afterwards per person, soot as ink and a bamboo as hammer.
Upon arrival, this kuya‘s tattoo was in progress and this was Whang-Od, doing her thang! BADASS!!
But don’t let that gruesome image stop you from having one from her. It’s all worth the pain!
I badly wanted to have my first tatt from Whang-Od. I had my designs ready but time did not permit, since there was already a long line, I settled for her “signature” so I can still go home with something. The system was, those who will be having major tattoos and those who will be having the signature only, will be done alternately by Whang-Od.
The signature symbolizes Apo Whang-Od herself, Grace, her grandniece and Ilyang who’s also another relative, to whom she passed her mambabatok skills. BTW, Whang-Od chose the single life.
My turn came and I sat in front of her. She was kind of laughing and saying something inaudible and all I was able to get was “liit liit“. Yes, I’m such a little girl. And it’s as if she’s saying whether I’ll be able to bear the pain. I had no idea but one thing’s for sure, I was so down for it.
First, she changed the needle. Then she would draft the tattoo first with ink and soft stick, though mine was just 3 dots. It didn’t hurt that much. Well, it really depends on the person’s pain tolerance and on which part you want to put the tattoo. Whang-Od would decline to put tattoo on certain areas, such as the side rib, because there were instances when some passed out. But if you really want to have it on that part, you can have either Grace or Ilyang do it for you. Their hands have better control compared to Whang-Od.
During the process, I was really more kilig than hurt. It lasted for about 2 minutes or so. If she’s not yet satisfied, she’d do another round of pokes to darken the tattoo.
This part is when blood gushed out for she most likely hit a nerve.
[Will link the tattoo once I have uploaded it. You have to hear the hitting.]
- Bring your own wet wipes and hand it to her. There’s a tendency that she’d reuse.
- As what I’ve read, bring matches and goods for them. Apart from our donation, I gave her a cardigan which she wrapped around her waist immediately.
- Ask the price after the tatt is done.
- You can stay overnight for P250. Some of the local’s houses were designed to let tourists in. It’s inclusive of unli coffee and unli rice. Just bring food you can share with them. If ever you’re planning of going, I suggest you stay the night for socials and catch the sunrise (which I’ll do next time.) Veryyy lovely view!
- Pack light for easier trek! You don’t want to fall off the cliff, doncha?
- Go on weekdays! Less people lining up for a tattoo.
- I forgot my other tips! Just go all out for adventure! YASSSS!
Will surely go back.