Guide to Apo Whang Od : The Last “Mambabatok” of the Philippines
Charcoal, citrus thorn and bamboo sticks: these are very important to Apo Whang-od, these are her treasures. ApoWhang-od is the last and the oldest traditional tattoo (mambabatok) artist in the Philippines who passionately tries to make the tradition of tattooing in the Philippines still alive.
Apo Whang-od is a legendary tattoo artist that every tattoo enthusiast should meet. She’s the Philippines’ oldest tattoo artist at roughly 100 years old and the last from the Butbut tribe. Also known as the Last Mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattoo artist), at a very young age of 15, Apo Whang-od has been doing this ancient art of batok or hand-tapped tattoos.
Headhunters earn their tattoos by protecting their villages and killing their enemies. It means bravery and courage. While women of the tribe ink their skins for aesthetic purposes. Apo Whang-od is trying to keep the tradition alive to her bloodline by training her grandnieces, Grace and Elyang.
For everyone who is curious what is the meaning of Mambabatok? Literally “Mambabatok” as what the Butbut tribe people called it is actually a traditional Kalinga tattooist.
Who is Apo Whang Od?
Apo Whang Od considered as the oldest living tattooist in the Philippines at the age of 103, it was pass on her by her father who taught her the way of traditional tattooing and pass it on to her grandniece, Grace Palicas, who has been to Dutdutan, the country’s biggest tattoo exposition held every year.
The traditional tattooing is different from the modern tattooing. Apo Whang-od, uses a bamboo stick and a citrus thorn that will be tapped on your skin with charcoal as the ink. Don’t worry, Apo Whang-od uses a different thorn to each of her clients and you can ask her to keep the thorn as your remembrance. Apo Whang-od also uses wet wipes on the tattoo during the session. After that, there is a special ointment, an oil, to be put all over the finished tattoo. Typically, a tattoo can be finished for 30 minutes to an hour. It will depend on the design.
As for the asking price? Again, it;ll depend on the design, usually cost Php 300 to Php 1,500 pesos. It’ll really depend on the design and how complicated it is. Apo Whang-od will decide the price of your tattoo after she’s done with it, same goes if you want to have your tattoo by her grandniece, Grace, you still need to seek Apo’s for the price.
Local Travel Guide in The Philippines Tips(How to get here)
Coming from Manila, just take a ride via Coda Lines bus that will take you directly to Bontoc. Their terminal station is in HM Transport, Monte de Piedad/Maryland St. corner EDSA, Immaculate Concepcion, Cubao, Quezon City.Travel time is roughly 8-10hrs to Bontoc which depends on traffic conditions with 2-3 stopovers for toilet and meal breaks.
From Bontoc, hop on a jeep heading to Tinglayan or Tabuk and drop off at Bugnay. Jeepney fare is P80.00 and sitting on the topload is one of the most scenic rides ever. Jeepney travel time is roughly 1 ½-2hrs. From Bugnay, you can do the 2 ½ hr hike or talk to the local residents and hitch with a motorbike. However, motorbikes still cannot reach Buscalan, though the hike is shortened to a 1-hr hike.