Tattoo art has certainly caught the imagination of the present-day youngsters, the reason why so many tattoo parlors have opened shop in shopping malls and other urban locales. However, tattoo art had been in vogue since antiquity in many cultures of the world and is still is.
The living proof of this is none other than Whang Od, a Kalinga tattoo artist living in the jungles of the Philippines. And she’s all of 102 years, a year shy of crossing the century mark! She belongs to the brave and savage Butbut tribe, who ruled the jungles and prevented outsiders from setting foot there. It doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s the last living Mambabatok, a tribal tattoo master.
Despite Whang’s almost inaccessible location, her mastery over tattoo art has spread across the world. And it really takes some doing reaching the village atop the mountain, since no roads lead to her village. And many foreigners take up the challenge to visit her, overcoming the inhospitable terrain and the hardships associated with it. All this to just get etched with ink!
However, there is a catch. As per the Kalinga tradition, the choice of tattoo design rests with Mambabatok, you only get to choose the body part you want to be pricked. If you are wondering what implement she uses for tattooing, it is a sharp lemon tree thorn, which Whang inserts into a stick. With this all-natural tool, she begins her work.
Once you have pointed out where you want your tattoo, Whang dips the stick with thorn into a mixture of water, charcoal, and some other ingredients and places it over the body part. Then she begins to hammer the thorn tip into the skin with a small bamboo hammer. The thorn punctures the skin and fills the numerous holes with ink. Slowly, under the expert hands of this master tattooist, the pattern starts to emerge that is beautiful beyond compare.
The best part is there’s no pain, despite the bloodletting and Whang’s procedure is far less intrusive than the modern-day tattooist. All she does is to simply wipe off the blood, remove excess ink and you are done. No antiseptic ointment or cling film!