The Legendary Tattoo Artist – Whang-Od Oggay

Whang Od, the oldest Filipino mambabatok, is the person who best represents the rich culture of Kalinga, a province located in the extreme north of the Philippines. Some even claim she placed Kalinga on the map of must-see destinations in the Philippines for both locals and foreigners. Many people risk the frigid weather and the 10-hour drive to the highlands simply to get tattooed by her.


Whang-Od began tattooing at the age of 15 after being trained by her father who an expert in the field. Only men with tattooing ancestors were allowed to study this specific craft in the Kalinga culture. Whang-Od, on the other hand, has a unique skill, and her father recognized her potential, and she became an exception. Whang-Od passed the tradition into their bloodline, she trained her nieces, Grace, and Elyang.  Elyang trained when she was 16 and Grace started to learn when she was 10. This is a reflection that a woman is the future. That women are wholly capable of creating a space for themselves in a male-dominated society — and excel at it.

Back when Whang-Od was young, she had a lover. They were madly in love with each other but things came to a head when he died in a war. She didn't search for someone to replace him after that and instead dedicated the rest of her life to her art. A woman doesn’t need a man to stand out, women can shine on their own. Whang-Od did what Gabriela Silang did — she emerged stronger, wiser, and more capable in spite of the circumstances.

The  Philippines is full of wonders and one of the most fascinating forms of art in the country is the mambabatok.  From her ink, Whang-Od lives a life of endurance, a life of striving to be the best.  Apo Whang Od is a Filipino treasure, a bearer and keeper of a tradition that we respect and value, and a historical practice of time-honored art.