The World According to Herr Willie – Apo Whang Od

           The World According to Herr Willie – Apo Whang Od

100-year-old Apo Whang Od is most likely the oldest tattoo artist in the world. A living legend in the Philippines, she has mastered the indigenous inking art of the batok and is a fascinating testament to the culture of the butbut people in Northern Luzon. I have wanted to visit her for a long time, and so I did.I have always been very fascinated by the traditional art form of tattoos and its cultural and aesthetical significance to native tribes. It was one of my most spiritual encounters when I got inked in Polynesia while visiting @vicuna on his temporary island. My fascination and admiration continues to grow and I constantly want to know more about the mystical world of skin paintings.One day I had seen a little film about a majestic lady in the Philippines, who still masters the traditional art of the batok, indigenous tattoo patterns, hand-tapped under the skin. Her name is Apo Whang Od. She is the last mambabatok, the title given to traditional Kalinga tattooists a thousand years. Apo is a Tagalog term for ''master'' and she is also referred to as Whang-Od Oggay.When I was visiting the north of Northern Luzon this spring I had it on my list, way up high, to see her. I talked with tourist guides, that I befriended, in my mountain-hostel in Banaue. They called up people involved with Whang Od's village and checked, if she is healthy and ready to welcome visitors, and she was. It was settled to meet someone on the road to take me there. It’s obligatory, that a guide takes you the last few hundred meters to the village and takes care of you there. It’s a way to control, who is coming and also helps to keep the local folks in the economic chain Apo Whang Od lives in Buscalan, a remote village of the butbut people way up in the north of the Kalinga Mountains. It is a rough four-hour car ride from Banaue or 15 hours from Manila, going over hills and valleys to reach Whang Od's home. So it’s favorable to have a group paying for the gas and rental of car and driver. I was lucky to meet Colin and Scarlet, two great Canadians, who joined me for the exploration. But there are risks involved, like if Apo falls sick, or the car breaks down or the streets are washed away by heavy rain –you agree to a deal, that might be shortcoming.I never really intended to get a tattoo from her, I just wanted to dive into the culture of her village and the way she does things. But I also heard in Banaue, that some have been lucky enough to receive her signature. Three tattooed dots, that indicate, you belong to a tribe of people, who met with Whang Od-Oggay. So I was contemplating about getting some body part of mine signed by her.Just before we reached the village a cool old guy with a goatee drove towards us on the back of a motorcycle. He stopped us, chatted with our driver and jumped into the car. It was Rudi, the younger brother of Apo Whang Od. And this rustic 68 years old became our guide, which I liked a lot because he was quite the model.Eventually we got out of our car and climbed steep stairways towards Buscalan for 20 minutes. After that, we stopped at a little hut, which was a sort of a tourist office. You pay a little tax to pass by, sign your name into a magical big book and express your desire. When I said, I want to explore the village culture and take photos of Apo Whang Od, they didn’t really understand. ''So you go in, take a photo of her and then you are off on the road again?'' they said. But I replied ''No, I want to spend some hours really exploring your village.'' I think, eventually everybody came around to like the idea because I really was curious about all their lives, not only Apo Whang Od.After that, we walked straight to business. Apo Whang Od was squatting on the edge of the village close to the cliff going down the valley. She was wearing a warm corduroy jacket and polka dotted pants, busy inking a Westerner, who was also squatting on a little seat. Her face seemed familiar right away and she was all zen and doing her thing. The area was in a roofed alley, protected from sun and rain. And alongside it was a little waiting area with benches. The improvised tattoo studio looked legit and I was really excited to be there among all of them. In the waiting area were a few Westerners and local folks.Whang-Od Oggay started at the age of fifteen to tattoo the warriors of her village. You earned your right for a tattoo once you killed an enemy. The fighting has long since ceased. Now, she is the cultural ambassador for a dying art form. Rudi told me, that she works from around eight in the morning until noon and manages roughly eight tattoos a day. It is smartest to arrive the night before you want to get your tattoo in the next morning.The first one I saw she was inking was a brave Canadian. He had his left shoulder hammered for the past week and it looked painful and beautiful at the same time. His lower arm was totally swollen, don’t kid yourself, this is terror to your body. But he was very smart because you have to manage her not the other way around. Especially for larger pieces, she needs more time and patience, after all, she is a century old. If not, her lines are not precise.The Kalinga tattoo art of the batok is a very archaic procedure. The utensils are two little bamboo sticks of the same size. One of them has a wooden calamansi or pomelo thorn on its very top. The ink is made from charcoal and water.


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hi im mark from the Philippines

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