documentary & editorial photographer

Kalinga’s Apo Whang Od

All photos by Martin San Diego
Words by Betina Libre

It takes more than nine hours to travel up to the beautiful region of Buscalan, Kalinga. We’re journeying towards the home of the Whang-od Oggay, also known as Maria Oggay. For the people of Kalinga and to the world, Whang Od is a legend often described as the last and oldest “mambabatok” or traditional tattoo artist of the Butbut tribe.

Most spectators reveled in watching Whang Od as she worked. Years before, tattoos were earned by protecting villages or killing men at tribal wars. In the present time, without the dangers of tribal wars, Whang Od still tattoos her visitors who come from far distances who are pressed by time to be inked by her. Not for the faint of heart, Whang-od uses pomelo thorn and a stick to bleed the skin and inks it with soot from pinewood.

What intrigues me is the fact that Whang Od has been doing this since was fifteen years old. How many individuals has she met? How did they communicate with her as her knowledge in English is limited? It doesn’t matter for the reason that as of this moment, she is 98 and has touched the lives of many – leaving her mark of three dots. Those three dots marked by an extraordinary woman, a national artist, whose life is worth celebrating.