Whang-ud unembellished | Inquirer News

Whang-ud unembellished

What’s this centenarian artist like when she’s not wielding ink and lemon horns?
By: - City Desk Editor / @DLejanoINQ
/ 07:09 AM October 29, 2017

MAKING MUSIC Whang-ud takes a break with a nose flute. DON LEJANO

Media has described her as the last “mambabatok,” a traditional tattoo artist of the Butbut tribe in Buscalan, Kalinga province, in northern Philippines.

Since she was featured in a TV documentary, Whang-ud has become a household word among Filipinos who are interested in tattoos. Her fame spread further when she was featured in an art exhibit in Canada. There was even a clamor for her to be declared National Artist a few years ago.

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In recent days, Whang-ud was in the news again over her recent participation in a trade show in Manila where she tattooed over 300 visitors to the event, a stint that some people described as an exploitation of the centenarian tattoo artist.

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But beyond the headlines, the plaudits and the buzz, what’s Apo Whang-ud like?

The famous “mambabatok,” who has hosted tourists in her humble home when they trek to her village to have their skin inked, is as simple as other elderly women in the community. Like them, she takes care of native pigs and chickens that freely roam the area.  She feeds them at least twice a day.

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Farming and raising livestock are the major sources of livelihood in this mountainour area. Women also make colorful beaded jewelry and tend their loom to produce handwoven textiles.

ICONIC Pictures sent by previous guests adorn a wall inside Whang-ud’s hut. —DON LEJANO

Although Apo Whang-ud doesn’t have a family of her own, she takes care of other relatives and is actually very motherly. She is usually in her kitchen cooking using firewood.

When tourists come for their tattoos after more than 12 hours travel by bus, jeepney and habal-habal (motorized bike), they find that there are no hotels, only homestays with the locals.

Staying in Apo Whang-ud’s house means sleeping on handwoven mats on the floor and gazing up on portraits of this cultural icon that were sent her by previous visitors.

After finishing her chores, the old woman takes a break by playing a nose flute in the silong (basement) of her house. For some reason, she loves playing sad music.

Visitors to the area are well-advised that Apo Whang-ud and the people of her tribe do not speak English or Filipino, so it would be best to get a guide from Tabuk or Buscalan who speaks their Kalinga dialect.

There’s  also spotty cellphone signal in the area, but there’s postcard-pretty scenery so keep your phones and cameras charged and ready to shoot.

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Since the area is quite remote, the Apo and her Butbut tribe would really appreciate some treats from guests. A box or two of matches would make the elders happy, while the children would love some candies or chocolates.

TAGS: Apo Whang-ud, mambabatok, tattoo artist

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