A 106-year-old tattoo artist from the Philippines named Apo Whang-Od has set a new record by becoming the oldest person to ever grace the cover of Vogue.
Oldest Traditional Kalinga Tattooist in the Country
Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, began honing her hand-tapping tattoo skills under her father’s guidance when she was a teenager. She is currently living in the mountain village of Buscalan, located in Kalinga province, which is roughly 15 hours north of Manila.
Back in the day, the hand-tapped tattoos that Whang-Od would create were earned by the indigenous Butbut warriors. She uses only a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water, and coal to make her signature geometric designs. These days, international visitors who are seeking her distinct style of tattoos make up a significant portion of her clientele.
According to Vogue Philippines, Whang-Od is considered to be the last mambabatok (a master tattooist) of her generation. She has made indelible tattoos on thousands of people who have traveled to Buscalan, imprinting the symbols of the Kalinga tribe that signify strength, bravery, and beauty.
Training of Next Generations For Traditional Tattoos
Whang-Od’s unique art of hand-tapping tattoos can only be passed down to blood relatives, which is why she has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas for a few years now.
Whang-Od revealed that all of her friends who used to hand-tap tattoos have already passed away. She is now the only living person who still practices this traditional form of tattooing. However, she is not worried that the tradition will end because she is currently training the next generation of tattoo masters.
Determination to Keep the Tradition Alive
Whang-Od has expressed her determination to continue giving tattoos as long as she can see clearly. She said, “As long as I can see well, I will keep giving tattoos. I’ll stop once my vision gets blurry.”
Apo Maria “Whang-Od” Oggay symbolizes the strength and beauty of the Filipino spirit.
Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe signifying strength, bravery & beauty on the skin.
— Vogue Philippines (@vogueph) March 30, 2023
Whang-Od believes that the tradition will continue as long as people continue to come to her to get tattoos. Her dedication to keeping this art form alive and thriving is truly remarkable, and her legacy will undoubtedly live on through her grandnieces and the countless individuals who have had the privilege of receiving one of her unique and meaningful tattoos.
Decision to Feature Whang-Od
According to Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief, Bea Valdes, the decision to feature Whang-Od on the cover of the magazine was unanimous among the staff. Valdes added that they believed Whang-Od represented the beauty of Filipino culture and that their concept of beauty needed to evolve to embrace diverse and inclusive faces and forms.
Before Whang-Od, the actress Judi Dench, 85 years old, was the oldest person to appear on the cover of British Vogue magazine.