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Preserving traditional tattooing, the inspiring Apo Whang-Od way

Apo Whang-Od

Apo Whang-Od uses the ancient way of tattooing on influencer Zeinab Harake.

CEBU CITY, Philippines – In the remote mountain province of Kalinga in Luzon, lives Maria Oggay or Apo Whang-Od, the country’s oldest mambabatok or traditional tattoo artist.

In a place famous for its aromatic coffee, and steep-tilled rice lives the sprightly centenarian, silently battling formidable opponents: her age and an even bigger battle of preserving her art of traditional tattooing.

At 106-year-old, Apo Whang-Od stands as a cultural icon of her generation. Born into the Butbut Tribe, she learned the art of batok, or tattooing, from her ancestors at the age of 16.

With her intricate designs and steady, skillful hands, she continues to carry on this thousand-year-old tradition, using the most basic of equipment – tree thorns, a string as a stencil, and ink made of coal and water.

Apo Whang-Od’s fame transcends the boundaries of her simple village, drawing visitors from around the world eager to visit and have a blessing in the form of a hand-tapped tattoo.

Just like content creator and social media influencer, Zeinab Harake who took the opportunity to get her first tattoo from Apo Whang-Od.

“Finally with the one and only Apo Whang-Od,” Harake captions her Instagram post where she is shown getting inked by the iconic artist.

READ: Michelle Dee pays tribute to Apo Whang-Od in Miss Universe 2023 evening gown

Whang-Od’s influence extends beyond her artistry. She has become a symbol of indigenous identity and cultural pride in the Philippines. Her resilience in preserving traditional practices in the face of mammoth strides of modernization serves as an inspiration for many.

Apo Whang-Od recently went to Malacañang Palace to personally accept the Presidential Medal of Merit conferred on her by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. A co-awardee was Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, Juan Ponce on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

As time marches forward, Apo Whang-Od stands as a testament to the importance of honoring and preserving our cultural heritage.

In her wrinkled hands are written the history of her people, and through her craft, she ensures that her ancestors’ legacy endures, one tattoo at a time.

READ: Tattoo artist Whang-Od conferred Presidential Medal of Merit 

TAGS: Apo Whang-od, mambabatok, tattoo artist
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