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Whang Od: The Last Kalinga Tattooer

In the Philippines there is the beautiful Luzon Island. On that island, in a small village hidden in the mountains, Buscalan, lives Whang Od and the Kalinga people.

Whang Od is 92 years old. Until recently she was the last Kalinga tattoo artist, a practice which scholars have around a thousand years, it was used as a natural language of the skin and transmitted from father to son.

In the tribe for years, it was not given too much importance to the tattoo culture, so that virtually disappeared until the first foreigners arrived. In fact, it was a journalist who thought Whang Od should form her sister’s granddaughter to be the next Kalinga tattoo artist.

Some children try to learn by seeing how she does it, but Whang Od says the artist must be future family.

The equipment consists of Whang Od a coconut bowl to mix the water, carbon and sweet potato, giving texture to the mix. She also uses a branch of Calamansi, Philippine lime, and a spinal needle attached to the end of a bamboo stick. Customers can choose where to get tattooed, but the design is decided by her, or she lets them choose one of the drawings on her arms.

"The eagle is for warriors, not for tourists or anyone else who should not be respected by the community."

"Happiness for me is to live till I’m 100 years making tattoos. I am delighted that people come to my house from around the world to visit and get tattooed, giving meaning to my life."

Text: Translated and adapted from “Whang Od: la tatuadora kalinga
Video by: Anthony Saguid
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