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Filipino on FB points out discrepancies in claim of ‘oldest mambabatok’ for Apo Whang-Od

Editor’s Note: INQUIRER.net previously used an uncredited photo for this article and its social cards. We recognize our oversight and have updated the post accordingly.


The Kalinga tribe of the Cordillera region has been known for having in their community possibly the oldest mambabatok, who we all know to be Apo Whang-Od. Yet, some are wondering whether she might actually be the oldest living mambabatok (a person doing hand-tapped tattoo technique) in the country.

Maria Oggay, known as Apo Whang-Od, is believed to be one of the few traditional tattoo artists remaining in the craft from her generation. Her meaningful tattoo designs have earned her recognition on a global scale.

Although Whang-Od is said to be the last of her breed and the oldest mambabatok, she lacks birth records attesting to her age, hence the inability of her or her kins to verify it.

On February 13, a Facebook user named Michael Gambican Umaming posted a cryptic post about people chasing Whang-Od, questioning the credibility of the publicized information the tattoo artist has, particularly her age.

This questioning comes at the heel of Whang-Od’s latest appearance with President Bongbong Marcos and Juan Ponce Enrile, as she received the Presidential Medal of Merit for ‘impact on Filipino culture and craft.’

The social media user went on to say that media and research should be the beacons of truth and should not perpetuate the “lie” that the mambabatok is 107 years old. He also said that people, particularly the media and researchers, should visit some of the residents of Buscalan and ask questions like “How old are you?” and “Who is older, you or Whang-od?”, that is the couple Ama Sagmayao and Ina Kasang, and Ama Henry Lammawin (aka Whangsit) who are living near Whang-od, and Ama Banag and Ama Bilig Longdason who know the mambabatok very well. These people, he said, will reveal the truth about Whang-od.

The post reached the attention of the then Provincial Director of NCIP Kalinga, Naty Sugguiyao, who was a part of the narrative when Apo Whang-od was first introduced to the world.

“She was featured in the Tattoo Hunter Series 2009 of Discovery Channel and we personally assisted in the filming Documentation of the series. We diligently made some searches for some living tattooists and there [were] a couple of women and men Tattooist recommended to be featured in the series but it was Wang-od who was the choice of the TV series.” Sagguiyao stated.

“I am personally related to Whang-od by affinity and know her. From the above, we say she was not the last Tattooist, and her age was based on a birth certificate that was not verified. It was not her fault that she got into the pedestal of FAME. So let’s put an end to this,” she added.


Many social media users also commented on the post, expressing their opinions.

Some people said that because it doesn’t harm anyone, it makes no sense to question the mambabatok’s age right now. Others also shared that Whang-od is just a victim of internet fame and, thus, should be protected at all costs.

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Others, however, claimed that although Whang-od should be commended for her artistic abilities and appearance, claiming that she is older than her manangs (older sister/woman) is a blatant fabrication intended to create a dramatic impression.

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Apo Whang Od has been practicing her skill and upholding her tribe’s customs for decades, but she wasn’t well-known outside her community until the early 2000s. Her artistic abilities and cultural heritage were introduced to a worldwide audience when she was featured in the documentary “The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga.”

The claim that Whang-od is the last remaining traditional tattoo artist in the province has been refuted by the entire community to whom she has taught the age-old craft, as well as by reports from locals claiming that while there are more tattoo artists in nearby villages, none are as renowned as the much-loved Whang-od.


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