Meet 103 Years Old Whang-Od Oggay Who is Preserving Kalinga Tattoo Art

Whang-Od Oggay is inspiring many young individuals to preserve the ancient tattoo tradition. She has been tattooing people for over 80 years.

3 years ago
Meet 103 Years Old Whang-Od Oggay Who is Preserving Kalinga Tattoo Art

When it comes to culture, several countries have different cultures, beliefs, and traditions. While Native Americans have a shocking history, Philippines culture is a blend of Spanish Catholic and Filipino. The Spanish soldiers and explorers who landed in 1521 dubbed the Philippines as the Island of the Painted Ones after the heavily tattooed locals. Tribal tattooing is almost extinct, but one lady, Whang-Od Oggay, is preserving this tradition by tattooing the women of the Kalinga tribe. 

Getting inked is not a new thing, right from celebrity to ordinary people choose tattoos that symbolize spiritual or sometimes hilarious meanings. When it comes to art, one does not need to use paintbrushes and pens on canvas. Filipinos use their bodies as a canvas to express their victory. 

Primarily known as a warrior tribe, the Kalingas throughout history fought and defended their community. To celebrate the victory, these people inked special markings on their body in different patterns. And thus, tattoos became a symbol of bravery. For men, it was the sign of bravery; for women, it was the symbol of beauty and strength.

She Has Received Numerous Awards for Tattooing

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She is a Filipino tattoo artist from Kalinga, Philippines, and is the last and the oldest tattooist of the community. She started tattooing people when she was 15 years old. She learned this technique from her father, who was considered as the master tattooist of Onngay. Earlier, men with tattooing ancestry were allowed to learn this art. She was an exception, and due to her potential seen by her father, she learned this art.  

She tattooed herself when she was young and inked the tattoo of a ladder and a python. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) conferred on the prestigious award Dangal ng Haraya Award. She was nominated for the National Living Treasures Award in 2017. 

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In 2015, then-Senator urged everyone in the Phillippine Senate to nominate her as one of the National living treasures that should be ranked equal to the national artist. She was present during Dutdutan Tattoo Expo 2012 and owned her booth. Apart from a famous tattoo artist, she also knows to play nose flute. 

American anthropologist Lars Krutak visited her in 2007 and documented her artworks. The episode of Krutak's 10-part series Tattoo Hunter was featured on the Discovery Channel. She was also featured in i-Witness (a television documentary show broadcasted by GMA Network), which was documented by Filipino journalist Kara David. 

Whang-Od Oggay - Reviving the Art of Filipino Tribal Tattoos

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It’s been over eight decades since this oldest tattoo lady is inking the people. The tattooing process is long, painful, and have risks of infection. In the Kalinga community, tattooing is a serious business and requires great skill. 

The ink-tapping instrument she uses is made from bamboo, whereas, the needle is the thorn of the lemon tree. Charcoal and soot are mixed to form an ink, which is then transferred to onto the skin by piercing the skin. After every big achievement in the field, men used to tattoo their bodies. 

She is Extremely Talented and Widely Admired as She is the Last of Her Generation to Preserve this Ancient Tradition

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She is not only famous in the Philippines but other countries too. The tattoo she inked lasts permanent and ranges from a simple line to complex tribal prints. Different tattoo shapes possess different meanings

Initially, the tattoo was inked on men who had achieved something. But now, with the change in society, the tattoo has become a favorite of women too. 

Obstacles in Keeping This Tradition Alive

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One of the obstacles in this field is this traditional tattoo technique is passed only from generation to generation (blood relatives). She has no kids, so she is teaching this technique to her grandnieces. 

If this technique is taught to people other than blood relatives, then the tattoos might lack honesty. Her other relatives are younger and are more interested in teaching rather than art. 

She told CNN, 

“My friends who gave tattoos] have all passed away. I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because [I’m training] the next tattoo masters.” 

She was also asked the secret to her healthy life. She said- 

“I don’t eat canned goods, foods with oil, foods with preservatives. I only eat organic foods like leafy vegetables and beans.”

Final Words

While the modern generation is forgetting their traditions and beliefs, this lady is trying her best to keep the tradition alive. She is inspiring several young individuals to value their traditions and cultures. 

If you are a tattoo freak and want to get tattooed from Whang Od-Oggay, then make sure that you are prepared to bear the pain. The process is extremely painful and might take months to complete.


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