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  • Lacrystal Parker

In a world where youth is obsessed over, admired and revered, how refreshing to see 106-year-old tat

The thousand-year-old practice of batok will live on, in Buscalan and around the world, thanks to the descendants whom Apo Whang-Od has been training and inspiring.


Mar 30, 2023

The remote village of Buscalan, home of the famed last mambabatok of her generation, has never been this accessible. Sure, you still need to endure the 12 hour-body-numbing drive from Manila with its city gridlock to the winding mountain roads of the Cordilleras, swerving around landslide debris and oncoming trucks in dangerously foggy conditions. But the dirt path from the turnoff in the municipality of Tinglayan, Kalinga—clearly marked by a sign that proclaims Welcome! Whang-Od Buscalan Tattoo Village—is now paved over, reducing hike time by over an hour. What’s left is a strenuous climb through the rice terraces that a reasonably fit person can conquer in 40 minutes.

Modern conveniences haven’t completely transformed Buscalan, yet. There is still no cell signal, and only a scant number of residents have WiFi. But steel has long replaced the traditional cogon roofing of the homes, and wooden huts have made way for crowded, concrete structures.

The woman who has been around to witness all these changes is also the one largely responsible for them. Apo Whang-Od, the sprightly centenarian also known as Maria Oggay, has been hand-tapping tattoos on skin since she was a teenager. It was only within the last 15 years or so that her clientele—and her renown–exploded beyond the Cordillera region, with thousands of visitors coming from all over the world, all seeking the exquisite pain of the soot-stained thorn.

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