My Traditional Tattoo Experience with the Last Mambabatok – Apo Whang Od

My adventure to the Mountain Province in Cordillera including my Sagada Philippines Hiking  won’t be complete without visiting this legendary Kalinga Tattoo Artist who gained fame all over the world because of her traditional way of tattooing her visitors using a thorn and a bamboo stick.

 Kalinga, Cordillera Administrative Region

Geographically, Kalinga is located in the central province of Cordillera Region in the northern part of the Philippines. It has landscapes that are covered with luscious mountains, crossing rivers, wide slopes, lowland plains, and countless rice terraces.

Buscalan Apo Whang Od
The woman behind this international fame is no other than Apo Whang-Od (pronounced Fang-Od.At 99-years old, she is the oldest Kalinga mambabatok in the Philippines. The Butbut tribe in Kalinga has this honored tradition about passing this tattooing practice to her family heir but this caused a problem to Whang-Od.She don’t have a family. Her two nieces, Grace and Ilyang have shown interest in taking over and Whang-Od has started to teach them her ways.

The legendary tattoo method known as batok in Kalinga culture incorporate powdered charcoal with water as an ink and apply by tapping the ink into the skin using the bamboo stick and a pomelo thorn. Kalinga is the home of the fiercest tattooed men in the tribe  symbolizing their bravery and courage.Tattoos portray beauty and elegance for women.

Buscalan Apo Whang OdThe tattooing process is more painful compare to the machine method we are familiar with. Centipede is commonly the famous tattoo design but I decided for a scorpion one representing the strength and power. Normally, it would take 30 minutes to 1 hour for a single tattoo to be done. Mine took half an hour to print the ancient scorpion art on my  arm for only 500PHP. The tattoo rates are ranging from 300PHP – 1500PHP depending on the design.

Luckily, I got to bring home the pomelo thorn as a souvenir.

So far no reports were made of being infected by this traditional tattoo by Apo Whang-Od. If you are conscious enough, make sure you have your anti-tetanus vaccine before planning your tattoo in the area. Make sure to keep your tattoo dry at all times for faster healing. Mine was healed after 3 weeks.

A guide is required for the entire trip to Buscalan. They will serve as your companion for the rest of your trip. They could be your translator when talking to Apo Whang-Od since she doesn’t know how to speak and understand Tagalog. Guide fee is 1000PHO per day.

There are a lot of available places to stay when you are in Buscalan. They offer a homestay for only 250PHP each per night with unlimited rice and coffee. Take note: UNLIMITED For sure you will enjoy their super white rice and the best coffee ever!

Buscalan Apo Whang Od
The rice is no problem but bring your own food. There is a mini store in the village where selected canned goods, noodles and other instant foods available.

Do not worry about the electricity. There is a power supply all over village but expect totally no network signal. So inform your loved ones before going to the place.

My entire trip was very memorable. Aside from having a tattoo from a legendary Wang-Od, I got a chance to experience their culture, tradition and meeting the tribe.

Til’ next time fellow Pinoy on Top!



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