Senate nominates tribal tattooist Whang-od Oggay for National Living Treasures Award

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — The Senate on Tuesday called for traditional tattoo artist Whang-od Oggay to receive the "highest honor given by the State to traditional folk artists."

Senate Resolution No. 2 nominated the 100-year-old tattoo master for the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasures Award in recognition for her work as the oldest and last "mambabatok" or traditional Kalinga tattooist.

The GAMABA was institutionalized in April 1992 through Republic Act No. 7355 and recognizes Filipinos, particularly traditional folk artists, "for their contribution to the national heritage through awards, grants, and other forms of recognition."

"Bestowing Whang-od the GAMABA or the National Living Treasures award does recognizes the beauty and grace of the ancient art of tattooing and ensures that such Filipino heritage will survive and continue to exist," said Sen. Nancy Binay in a Tuesday statement.

"Her contribution to her native craft, as well as the rarity of her situation, should not go unrecognized, and warrants nomination from this august body," she added.

"Whang-od Oggay was renowned for her 'batek' which she started practicing since her childhood years," said Sen. Sonny Angara in the same statement.

"She tattooed countless warriors and head-hunters of her tribe that has now garnered both local and international recognition and reverence," Angara added.

Whang-od started in her craft at the age of 15. Her tattoo ink is made of a mixture of charcoal and water tapped into the skin through the thorny end of a calamansi or pomelo tree branch.

Whang-od said she draws inspiration for her designs from nature and basic geometric figures.

For males, she designs tattoos that mean being able to protect their village. For women, they are purely for aesthetic purposes.

"It is only proper to nominate Whang-Od for the GAMABA or the National Living Treasures Award for her exceptional embodiment of the Filipino's rich heritage, not only to honor her and similar individuals who contribute and enrich the Filipino cultural identity and history, but also to preserve and to further promote traditional folk arts for the benefit of future generations," Angara said.

Whang-od said in October 2017 — when she attended the design and lifestyle event Manila FAME — that she is hopeful that her tribe in the village of Buscalan, which is around 450 kilometers north of Manila, will continue her work.

Read: Tattoo master Whang-od hopeful tribe will continue her work

"I am happy that today, children are getting interested in tattoo making, so when my eyesight is gone, I know they will continue my work," she said.