Visitors from all over the world are seeking out this woman to get a hand-poked traditional tattoo
Adventurists wanting authentic, tribal tattoos, containing both mystery and meaning, come to a small village in the Philippines to visit the world’s oldest tattoo artist.
Whang Od Oggay is 103 years old and lives in the northern mountainous region of the Kalinga province.
Many filipinos consider her a celebrity because she’s the only mambabatok – traditional tattooist – left in their country.
These hand-poked tattoos are made with a pomelo tree, a foot-long bamboo stick, coal, and water. Whang Od taps her homemade ink deep into the the skin with a thorn, while the bamboo pushes it in.
Her tattoos symbolize either strength or fertility and are permanent once applied. Designs range from various lines to mysterious tribal prints to animals.
She’s popular not only among the locals, but with tourists from all over the world.
Because she’s revered as a master of her craft and recognized as such, people will drive 15 hours north of Manila to the mountain village of Buscalan. After a long car ride, visitors have to hike over a mile down a skinny dirt road through forests and rice terraces.
In the old days, these traditional Kalinga tattoos used to be given to tribal warriors after they killed a man in battle but today anyone can get one… well, anyone who can mange to reach her anyway.
“I had a 4-day trip going from Baguio to Sagada to Buscalan, where the village of Whang Od is. The villagers were friendly, and I had fun, especially with the kids. They dance to modern hits from a phone there. They respect their elders so much,” said Rajayana Librojo Fajatin.
“For me, Whang Od is the most beautiful woman I’ve seen,” said Rajayana. “The tattooing was not as painful as it was illustrated and lasted for less than an hour. I had it done on my right shoulder. Going down the mountains after getting a tattoo was quite exhausting, but the villagers, even the old women, can do it fastly and smoothly. Overall, a fun and humbling experience!”