October 22, 2012

Kalinga - Part II - Last Tattoo Artist

The mountain village of Buscalan in the province of Kalinga held moving and meaningful surprises for my honey and me. 

A good friend had invited us to join a group of photographers on their trip and we had enthusiastically agreed without really knowing much about their mission. So it was to be an adventure without expectations; the best kind, in my book. And we were not disappointed.

Yesterday, in Part I of this series, I showed the majestic rice terraces we passed on our journey through the mountains.

Only when we reached Buscalan, historically a headhunters' village, did we learn we were to meet the last Kalinga mambabatok or tribal tattoo artist.

Let me introduce you to the poised and talented Whang Od (pronounced Fang-ud). She is in her 90s, was never married (lost the love of her life in a fatal accident when still in her 20s), and still works daily both in the rice fields and at her special art of hand-tap tattooing.



Whang Od herself is adorned with traditional tribal tattoo designs, as well as beautiful heirloom beads. (You can read more about Kalinga beads here.) I suspect some of these beads she would have received in barter for her craft.


Lars Krutak, the tattoo anthropologist of Discovery Channel's Tattoo Hunter series fame, describes her craft thus:
Whang Od keeps her tattooing tools under the floor boards of her stilted hut. Her hand-tapping kit is comprised of a coconut bowl to mix a pigment of soot and water, an orange thorn needle (siit) attached to the end of a small bamboo stick, and another short stick used to tap the thorn into the skin. 

I've read that for many, once they get one tattoo, they can't stop themselves getting more. Vixienne came back to Buscalan for her second tattoo. She is grimacing from the pain here, but not long after she was all smiles.
 

Jeremiah is the proud new owner of a traditional centipede tattoo by the national artist with a steady hand. (See Part VI so see his video of this.)
 
 Buscalan, Kalinga, 2012

In this last photo you see Whang Od standing in front of her humble home and also the tomb she has built for herself - the entrance is behind her legs. 

Many are concerned that when she dies, her art form will die with her. We were told - and I later read - that she has been training her young yet enthusiastic grand-niece, but we did not see her.

This is a short - less than two minute - video of the perilous road to Buscalan and Whang Od at her tap-tap-tap work. It was not made by anyone in our group.



My post today is linked to the blogging communities at Mosaic Monday and Macro Monday.

Drop in for Part III of this Kalinga series. Maybe I can surprise you, too!

16 comments:

NixBlog said...

What amazing photos! She has a wonderful face...

Andy said...

Francisca you know I've said in the past and I'm going to say it again. I think you work for National Geographic. If not you should freelancing with them. Your photos and adventures are up to their standards. Whang Od is such an interesting person to have met up with.

jennyfreckles said...

I can hardly believe she is in her 90s. She's very beautiful and looks so graceful. It would be a dreadful shame if her art died out, hope she really is training someone. (Not that I really like Western tattoos but these look rather different.)

Genie said...

Francisca....What an impressive artist. At her age to be so steady handed that she can do these tattoos for people awes me. My favorite shot of them all is the one taken from above showing the beads in her hair. I also like the portrait showing the beauty of her aging face. What a wonderful post. genie

s.c said...

Real great photo's here. Something for National Geographic. I see now that there is no railing on the bridge. Its really creepy. But keep clicking an show us your wonderful pictures.

Katrin Klink said...

Thank you, your photos made my day. Really perfect, I have goose bumps all over.

Traveling Hawk said...

The quality of your portraits here is excellent, Francisca! The woman has a very expressive face and hands, and I like the beads too.

Jill Harrison said...

Fascinating story, and wonderful portraits of this beautiful lady. Thank you for taking us to her world. The tattooing sounds painful!
Have a wonderful week. I am linking up to you through Mosaic Monday.

edenhills said...

Fascinating! She is quite the artist. Your photography is wonderful. You really bring the process to life.

bailey-road.com said...

Wonderful captures.
What an amazing artist she is!

FrankandMary said...

She is in her 90s, was never married (lost the love of her life in a fatal accident when still in her 20s), and still works daily both in the rice fields and at her special art of hand-tap tattooing.


Damn, I love her. Tattoos make me a little nauseated, but I love her.

EG CameraGirl said...

Thank you for including the video as now I understand better how Whang Od does her art. Fascinating!

And walking over that board bridge looks even scarier in a video than in a still photo!

ladyfi said...

Wow - she has the most beautiful face - ever!

Kalantikan said...

I echo what Andy said, you should be freelancing with the NG! And like what EG Camera Girl observed, that narrow bridge is more scary in the video than in still photo. I cannot traverse that bridge at all, as I have height scares! If I am with you I will stay at the other end waiting till you return.

Gunilla Bäck said...

That is amazing and I just love her jewelry too.

Pat Tillett said...

Hi Cisca! What a fantastic follow-up to the first post. A great adventure you had and thanks so much for sharing it...