104-Year-Old Tattoo Artist Uses Bamboo Stick And Thorns To Create Unique Tattoos
Living legend Whang-Od Oggay has gone viral on TikTok for her iconic bamboo stick and thorns tattoos.
Tattoo artist Whang-Od is well known for her artistic skills, and has become renowned across the world for the traditional tribal tattoos.
104-year-old Whang-Od is a Filipino tattoo artist from Kalinga province. Throughout history, the Kalinga have used tattoos as a symbol of bravery, beauty and strength, and Whang-Od is the last living mambabatok; the name given to the traditional tattoo artists of the Kalinga.
The tattooist uses a stick with a calamansi thorn, from the calamansi citrus tree, to create her incredible designs.
Her tattoos range from simple designs to complex tribal patterns. And, as any good tattoo artist does, Whang-Od dons many of her own designs.
The tattoos typically feature natural shapes and patterns, reflecting the mountainous region of the Cordilleras where she works.
Whang-Od discussed her practice with the BBC, highlighting the cultural importance of the tattoos.
Talking emphatically, she says her designs are:
Earthly messengers from the gods [that] protect you from enemies or bad spirits.
In 2007, anthropologist Lars Krutak documented her artistry in an episode of the 10-part Discovery Channel series Tattoo Hunter.
In recent months, Whang-Od’s work has caught the eyes of TikTokers, with some recounting their own experience getting the traditional tattoos.
Her expert tribal designs were most recently featured in a TikTok video by @colekozume.
Kozume reflected on his experience getting a tattoo from the artist and his healed ‘prayer tattoo’ design, noting that the experience was painful as he showed off the tattoo.
Whang-Od’s tattoos are highly sought-after, but the traditional technique can only be passed down to another family member.
When speaking to the BBC about training her grandniece Grace, Whang-Od explained:
It has to be within the same family because if someone else who is not from the same bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected.
After losing the love of her life at 25 years old, Whang-Od never had children. She is passing the 1,000-year-old practice on to her grandniece in the hope of preserving the incredible artistry.
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