Tapping History into the Skin
“Happiness to me is being able to live up to 100 years making tattoos. I’m delighted of having people from all over the world coming to my home to visit and get a tattoo from me; this gives meaning to my life.” -Whang-Od
We spotted this fantastic video that tells the story of Whang-Od, a 92 year old tattoo artist from the hidden Buscalan village in the Kalinga province, Philippines and just had to share her with you. The technique that has made the trek to get to her a must for travelers from around the world is thought to be around 1000 years old and involves hammering ink designs into the skin. Her father taught her the art of batok (tattoo), though it was her boyfriend's death when she was 25 that culminated in the decision to truly immerse herself in traditional art form of hammering ink into skin, in lieu of finding a new choice for husband. She is now thought to be the last practitioner of the technique, though she is working on teaching others, namely her sister's granddaughter, to carry forth the traditions of this tribal culture into yet another generation.
Whang-Od goes on to tell the story of how when she was young, all of her friends had tattoos, so she thought that she ought to have them as well, thus beginning the journey into covering herself with tattoos. In Buscalan, history is truly written into the skin of the elders, not only in the wrinkles acquired with age and wisdom, but in the decoration that has transformed their bodies into art and a testament to their culture. For centuries, the Kalinga tattoos were used as a language passed from generation to generation, marking warriors and telling of their courage and defining feminine beauty; the combination of decades of missionization, colonial administration and, of course, modernization, has brought the prominence of abundant tattooing among younger generations to its knees, and the practice faced extinction. The attention Whang Od has been receiving, however, has brought the world to her doorstep and has revived interest in the legacy of her unique skill.
(Originally posted July 29, 2013)