You would probably never think to get a tattoo from a 92-year-old, but Whang Od is here to change your mind. Od may be aged, but she has spent many years mastering her craft. Whang Od is the oldest and the very last Kalinga tattoo maker in the Philippines.
The province of Kalinga lies in Northern Philippines and is famed for their ancient art of tattooing. Their particular practice of tattoo making dates back 1,000 years. While tattoos are now worn for aesthetic purposes, the tradition behind Kalinga tattoos were much more intricate.
Interaksyon explains the old tradition of Kalinga tattoos.
“For people of the tribe, a lady with tattoos was—and is—regarded as beautiful. She decorates her arms with sleeves of snake skin and rice grain patterns. Her forehead and temples are embellished with crosses, triangles and dots to enhance her visage.
A boy, however, only earns his first marking after his first kill—specifically, when he cuts off an enemy’s head and brings it back to the village. As he grows into a strong warrior, he earns his ink armor one amulet at a time: centipedes in the arms for protection, pythons on the shoulders for strength, and the most elaborate of which, the mighty eagle on the chest and back– reserved for the most valiant.”
When the practice of head-hunting died out, the tradition of Kalinga tattoos slowly began to fade away. A community which was once filled with tattoo artists now has only one left. Whang Od has no children, so unless she passes on the art to a relative or an apprentice, the cultural tattoos may vanish.
Now before you hop on a plane to the Philippines to get an authentic Kalinga tattoo before it’s too late, you should know that the art of making Kalinga tattoos is quite different from the tattoo shops we’re accustomed to.
Whang Od doesn’t use a machine of any sort. She simply uses wooden sticks with a needle at the end of one. After applying ink on the needle, she taps/hammers the ink onto the skin.