VIRAL: Declare known Igorot tattooer a National Artist

Bea Orante
VIRAL: Declare known Igorot tattooer a National Artist
At 97 years old, Whang-Od Oggay is recognized for her 'world-class contribution to the art of tattoo-making that is genuinely Filipino'

MANILA, Philippines – A campaign initiated by Facebook user Loughrenz Aidwourd is calling for a National Artist Award to be given to Igorot tattoo artist Whang-Od Oggay.

Since its posting on September 17, it has garnered more 10,000 shares.

The original Facebook post noted that Whang-Od’s craft is a “world-class contribution to the art of tattoo-making that is genuinely Filipino,” and thus deserves the conferment of the order.

The viral post also mentioned that the tattooer from Kalinga province in Cordillera has drawn people from the Philippines and around the world who “take pride that they were tattooed by her.” 

The National Artist award is one of the the highest civilian honors in the Philippines. It was first given by the government in 1972. To date, a total of 66 National Artists have been honored for their significant contributions in their respective fields. 

In 2003, the award was elevated to the Order of National Artists through Executive Order 236, making it fourth in precedence among the decorations accorded outstanding people.

Keeping the craft alive 

At 97 years old, Whang-Od is known to be one of the last Kalinga tattoo artists. One of Gameplan’s hosts, Ton Vergel de Dios, described her as “looking really strong.” Today, she is training her niece to one day take her place.

Each tattoo is done by taking a mix of soot and water and applying it to the skin using a stencil which would then be pounded onto the skin using a stick with a thorn at the end that is rhythmically pounded. Each tattoo’s design is chosen and can range from centipedes, trees, to geometric patterns.

Wang-od (Fang-od), the last Kalinga tattoo artist, deserve to be recognized as a National Artist. #WangOdNationalArtistPlease share

Posted by Loughrenz Aidwourd on Thursday, 17 September 2015

The tattoos are not simply for aesthetics as they have historical and cultural significance. Rappler’s LeAnne Jazul earlier wrote about how the Butbut tribe used their tattoos in defending their land against the proposed dam during the Marcos administration. Because looking at the tattoos supposedly brought harm upon the viewer, the protesters displayed theirs leading to the workers abandoning the site.

The marks a person bears on his skin are also his only belongings after death as all other possessions are not buried with the body and the tattoos are supposedly brought along into the afterlife.

Widespread attention

On Facebook, many who have shared the post mentioned wanting to get a tattoo from Whang-Od as part of their bucket list. The attention she and Kalinga in general are receiving is part of why the petition has been building steam. 

Even foreign tourists have flocked to have Whang-Od give them tattoos. Some, like The Broke Backpacker, post pictures of their experience on their social media accounts, bringing Whang-Od and her art further into the spotlight.

The petition’s followers are also growing as more Filipinos share the Facebook post. Some have said that tattoos are a form of art and Whang-Od is keeping history alive by continuing to do her work. By honoring her, netizens said, the country is also recognizing its rich but vanishing indigenous culture. –

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