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Whang Od resides in Buscalan, in the province of Kalinga, Phillipines, she is the last remaining Kalinga Mambatok (tattoo artist) in the region. Learning from her father, Whang Od dedicated her life to mastering the millennium old practice after the man she was in love with died when she was 25. It was during the second World War that batok increased in practice, as it was commonly associated with and reserved for warriors - in this case, the headhunters that fought off Japanese and Filipino soldiers aiming to raid and pillage; only an estimated 30 remain to this day.

Using the traditional hand tapping method, Whang Od mixes her ink in a coconut bowl using soot and water to create a thick, dark pigmentation. Using a siit (orange thorn needle) attached to a bamboo stick, Whang Od takes another bamboo stick to tap and hammer the needle into the skin. Often times, a wooden stencil would be used for more intricate and complex patterns. As this method is hand based, the process is much more painful than what the western world has adopted as standard practice; though the exclusivity of the knowledge and privileged application of such a tattoo makes the practice less fashion and more ornamental and identifiable as a status symbol.

Today, Whang Od tattoos out of necessity; she uses the money to buy pigs and hens to feed her village. Word has spread enough that many westerners travel from far away to visit Whang Od and get a one of a kind tattoo. She loves the visitors; Whang Od finds solace and meaning in her artistry. At 92 years old, Whang Od is nearing the twilight of her “career” despite being in good health. Her plan is to educate her sisters granddaughter in order to pass down the tradition and let the meaningful practice live on.

Read this in depth and informative article by Lars Krutek to learn more about traditional batok and Whang Od.


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