By: Aldrich Glenn D.
Ap-pu Whang-od Oggay is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines and has been featured by various international media outlets like BBC. She’s 98 years old and makes her tattoo living in Buscalan village, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines.
Last November, our plan to visit Buscalan happened. Prior to coming, we are firm on our decision that whatever happens, we must be inked by no other than Ap-pu Whang-od herself. But upon seeing her around 4pm doing her “pagbabatok” (tattooing) with a crowd waiting for their turns, we decided to have our tattoo done by her protegé, Grace.
This is not because we wanted to have our tattoos to be done quickly but we felt her struggles. We do not underestimate her strength but at 98 years old, sitting all day long trying to accommodate the crowd, it can be very exhausting. Plus the fact that her eyes needed a broad daylight to perfect her legendary art. Though I was not inked by her, I still feel grateful as I had the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with her.
Ap-pu Whang-od is now considered the wealthiest woman on their tribe but there is no denying that she helped a lot of people in their village – from local guides to homestay owners, to jeepney drivers and habal-habal/motorcycle experts. Thus, more than the amount of money for the locals, more than the legendary tattoo that we are trying to have, we must be sensitive enough to consider her own welfare. She may not complain, she may not require some rules but when we look closely, when we try to imagine if we were in her shoes, when we try to know her story straight from her lips, when we try to hold her hands, then we would realize that she is still a woman – old and vulnerable.
To the Philippine government, make her a National Artist. Provide regulations. Now.
*The writer is a very good friend of mine. All photos belong to him. This is originally posted on his facebook timeline so thank you for letting me feature it here.
We’ve always been making plans to travel together. Hopefully, this year is different from other years! 🙂
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