Legarda Pays Tribute To Kalinga’s Oldest Traditional Tattoo Artist

October 5, 2015

Senator Loren Legarda today supported calls for Whang-Od Oggay, Kalinga’s oldest mambabatok (tattoo artist), to be nominated as a National Living Treasure or Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA), citing her invaluable role in perpetuating the traditional art of tattooing.


“Apo Whang-Od has dedicated her whole life to her craft as she continues the art form and stands as its living archive in which she holds memory and mastery of Kalinga’s tattoo practice and its visual symbolisms that depict the province’s rituals – from childbirth, adulthood, marriage and death,” said Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Communities, in filing Senate Resolution 1606.


In the early 16th century, traditional tattooing was widespread in the Philippines, especially in the Cordilleras. Until recently,batok has been considered a fading art form, and with its slow demise, vestiges of valuable culture and tradition would have vanished and be forgotten were it not for Whang-Od, who became the subject of American tattoo anthropologist and TV host Dr. Lars Krutak in his Discovery television series Tattoo Hunter, catapulting her into the global spotlight.


Legarda said, “despite Whang-Od’s old age and dwindling eyesight, her hands are steady and rhythmic while her concentration fierce, a portrait of an artist consumed with her work.”


Moreover, people from all over the world pay homage to her and get inked with Kalinga’s traditional tattoos, thus creating a global living canvas for the Philippine indigenous art form.


The Senator said it is timely and fitting that Whang-Od be celebrated as a National Living Treasure or GAMABA.


Under Republic Act 7355, a Manlilikha ng Bayan is “a Filipino citizen or group of Filipino citizens engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino, whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence.”


“The awarding of the GAMABA will not only recognize Whang-Od’s role as a steward of Kalinga’s cultural heritage but will also aid her community and her apprentice in making sure that the art form be passed on from generation to generation,” Legarda concluded.