Whang-od to receive Dangal ng Haraya award

Frank Cimatu

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Whang-od to receive Dangal ng Haraya award
Whang-od will be conferred the award in Kalinga on June 25

BAGUIO, Philippines – Whang-od Oggay of Buscalan village will finally receive an award for preserving and celebrating the traditional art of tattooing. 

Whang-od will be conferred by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) with the Dangal ng Haraya Award for Intangible Cultural Heritage at Tabuk City in Kalinga on June 25. 

It will not be the National Artist Award, which over 3,300 of her fans petitioned for online, but it is prestigious enough for the Kalinga manwhatok (tattooist). 

“Apo Whang Od has long been recognized and respected in her community as a master tattooist. Her practice started in her early adolescence and has since tattooed elders, women, and warriors from her community in the traditional Kalinga practice – using charcoal as ink and calamansi thorns to puncture the skin,” said a press release from the NCCA meeting last month in Davao City. 

“Apo Whang Od’s continuing work as a manwhatok and her influence on the Filipino traditional arts scene leading to a heightened awareness about the culture of the Kalinga community — their worldview, traditions, and expressions — earned her the Dangal ng Haraya for Intangible Cultural Heritage,” it said. (READ: Senate nominates Whang-od for National Living Treasures Award)

Dangal ng Haraya is given to living Filipino artists, cultural workers, and historians, artistic or cultural groups, historical societies, institutions, foundations, and councils, for their outstanding achievements in relevant fields that have made an impact and significant contribution to Philippine culture and arts.

Whang-od had been one of the very few quietly practicing manwhatok in Kalinga until she was featured in American anthropologist Lars Krutak’s Tattoo Hunter in Discovery Channel in 2009, propelling her to the global audience and bringing thousands of tattoo “pilgrims” to beat the path to her village. (READ: Whang-od as a brand name)

Since she became famous, Whang-od would only allow no more than thirty customers to be inked; with her typically initiating the design and her two grandnieces finishing the pattern for her. 

In the resolution signed by NCCA Chairman Almario, the Commission recognizes Whang Od “as a living vessel of a traditional practice, [who] deserves honor and acknowledgment for her contributions, particularly by bringing to greater attention the indigenous practice of tattooing and Filipino culture in general.”

Whang-od was among the Kalinga tattooist in Cordillera anthropologist Analyn Salvador-Amores’ 2013 book, Tapping Ink, Tattooing Identities. Photographer Jake Versoza also published a limited edition book on her. 

Whang-od’s age, estimated at 100 years, was just among the controversies surrounding her. Her appearance at the Manila FAME show last year also raised issues of cultural appropriation and exploitation. –

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