103-Year-Old Tattoo Artist Is Keeping An Ancient Filipino Tradition Alive

by : Emily Brown on : 06 Jul 2020 10:27
lablouseroumaine/Instagram/Great Big Story/YouTube

An ancient Filipino tattoo tradition involving thorns and charcoal is being kept alive by a 103-year-old woman who is the last of her kind. 

Whang-Od Oggay has been giving people tattoos for more than 80 years after starting a tattoo apprenticeship as a teenager, though the practice has been ongoing for 1,000 years.


At 103 years old, Whang-Od is the last living mambabatok; the name given to the traditional tattoo artists of the Kalinga ethnic group, who reside in the Kalinga province of the Philippines.

When the tradition first came about, tattoos were only given to indigenous Butbut warriors who had killed someone in battle. Nowadays, however, the ink is available to everyone, and every year tourists flood to the region to try and get one of Whang-Od’s infamous and unique tattoos.

The pieces are created using charcoal, which Whang-Od taps into the skin using a hammer and thorns gathered from calamansi or pomelo fruit trees. Designs include snakeskin-like patterns, centipedes, ladders and numbers, among others, and every design is symbolic.


Learn more about the practise here:

Whang-Od is herself covered in tattoos, with each arm taking a full day to complete, according to The Culture Trip. When she was inked from head to toe, her father rejoiced and killed a pig to celebrate.

The artist never got married, and lost her significant other during the Japanese occupation. She has been single since then, and as she doesn’t have any children she has been teaching her grandniece, Grace Palicas, to continue the tribe’s tattoo tradition.


Whang-Od reportedly believes that she can only pass the practice on to her own bloodline, because if someone outside the tribe were to continue the tradition the tattoo would be infected.

Making the journey to see Whang-Od is no small feat, and involves a 15-hour drive north of Manila to the mountain village of Buscalan, which is only accessible by hiking a mile from the nearest dirt road through a forest and rice terraces, My Modern Met reports.

Still, tourists make the lengthy journey with the desire of getting one of the traditional tattoos, with some people saying Whang-Od put Kalinga on the Philippine map of must-visit places for local and foreign visitors alike.


As a sign of courtesy, visitors are encouraged to bring offerings for their host such as food, medicine and matches, all of which are essential for the locals’ day-to-day existence.

The tradition looks set to continue long into the future, as Grace is said to be more than willing to keep it going, and she has had the opportunity to participate in different tattoo festivals around the country.

Hopefully the amazing practice will not be lost.


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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Life, Adventure, Now, Philippines, Tattoo, Travel


Culture Trip and 2 others
  1. Culture Trip

    Meet Apo Whang-Od, the Last Kalinga Tattoo Artist in the Philippines

  2. My Modern Met

    102-Year-Old Tattooist Is Keeping an Ancient Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive

  3. Great Big Story/YouTube

    This 101-Year-Old Tattoo Artist Is the Last of Her Kind