Meet Whang-Od, a 103-Year-Old Tattoo Artist Practicing in the Philippines

Meet Apo Whang-od Oggay, known to be the oldest living tattoo artist practicing Mambabatok in a mountain province of the Philippines. At 103-years-old, she is a master of the thousand-year-old trade which uses traditional hand-tap methods that first began as a way to honor warriors in battle. Using a hammer and thorns, Whang-Od taps coal ink into skin. It is said Whang-od is now teaching 20 young girls, plus her grandnieces the art of mambabatok so that the tradition and knowledge will not die with her and so that her legacy will be carried through her students and family.

Back before headhunting was outlawed in the early 1900s, the rules of tattooing were very strict. They were given to men only when they satisfied certain conditions, primarily characteristic of being warriors. Women were tattooed for fertility or aesthetic purpose. Today, those conditions no longer need to be fulfilled in order to receive a tattoo from her, which opens up an entirely new conversation about tattoo culture and the way it has evolved in Philippine society.

See the beautiful short documentary below courtesy of This Great Big Story, and learn more from Whang-Od herself. She’s a true inspiration.

Photos courtesy of Apo Whang Od and MB Glimska.