Whang-Od at Manila FAME

Whang-Od Oggay, the last mambabatok of Buscalan, Kalinga and the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines, has been formally nominated for the Gawad sa Manglilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasure Award last Oct. 20 at Manila FAME at the World Trade Center Metro Manila, Pasay City.

Held during Manila FAME’s KATHA Awards and Networking Night, the nomination was led by Acting Governor of Kalinga James Edduba. It was then received by Elamae Membrer, Committee on Northern Cultural Communities secretary of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Sub-commission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts.

Manila FAME is the Philippines’ premier design and lifestyle event organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the export promotion arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Apo Whang-Od was also the honored guest in the launch of the Joint Promotion of Trade and Tourism by the DTI, through CITEM, and the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Manila FAME on October 21, which was culminated with a fashion-dance show, featuring a Whang-Od inspired garment to honor the country’s 100-year old legendary tattoo artist.

“CITEM is honored to announce that the nomination of Whang-Od Oggay to the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasures Award, institutionalized through Republic Act No. 7355, was accepted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA),” said CITEM Executive Director Clayton Tugonon.

NCCA is the Philippine government’s highest policy-making and coordinating body for culture and the arts. Through the agency’s GAMABA Committee and an Ad Hoc Panel of Experts, will then conduct the evaluation, with a program that ensures the transfer of skills and promotes genuine appreciation of our heritage.

 Elamae Membrere and Gov. James Edduba
NCAA’s Elamae Membrere (L) receiving the formal nomination of Whang-Od Oggay from Kalinga Gov. James Edduba


 Whang-Od at Manila FAME
From left to right: Ilyang Wigan, Whang-Od Oggay, and Grace Palicas during the KATHA Awards and Networking Night.

Institutionalized through Republic Act No. 7355, The GAMABA recognizes citizen engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generation in his/her community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence.

“Apo Whang-Od’s participation in Manila FAME was a tremendous collaborative effort of various government agencies. These include the Philippine Air Force, Philippine Army who ensured her safety prior to and during her travel to Manila and back,” said CITEM Executive Director Clayton Tugonon.

Tugonon also added: “Whang-Od’s comprehensive care prior to and throughout her participation and travel back to Kalinga was done by a dedicated medical team lead by Dr. Miguel Ramos, head of the Department of Health’s National Geriatric Hospital, Geriatric Medicine consultant of the Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center, National Center for Geriatric Health, and St. Luke’s Medical Center Security.”

Tugonon said that the invitation of Apo Whang-Od was sought through proper channels which include the Kalinga community of elders (Whang-Od included), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, concerned local government units, Department of Tourism and the Department of Trade and Industry Regional offices.

With a focus on celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines, Manila FAME showcased the unique art of the pagbabatok or traditional tattooing in a variety of show features. Whang-Od and her successors Grace Palicas and Ilyang Wigan conducted live tattoo sessions during the first two days of the show as part of a centerpiece setting.

“CITEM would like to thank all of its partner agencies, supporters, visiting guests in Manila FAME for making this edition a remarkable success,” Tugonon expressed.

Tugonon also clarified that all proceeds from the tattoo of Whang-Od and her successors during the event were completely handled by the Kalinga elders.

Whang-Od is the only living traditional tattoo master in Kalinga with the honorable title of Mambabatok. She started practicing the art of the pagbabatok or the traditional tattoo as a young girl and was said to have tattooed the most number of warriors and headhunters in their tribe. Today, she has two successors, her grandnieces Grace Palicas and Ilyang Wigan, ensuring that the unique tattoo art of Kalinga would continue on for another generation.

Her tattoos have garnered recognition both locally and internationally as hundreds of tourists from around the world visited her village, seeking for her. At 100 years old, she still does tattoos for visitors on a daily basis.

“Apo Whang-Od’s impact extends farther than her village. Her presence   brought  new   life   in  appreciating   our   traditional art sand   she   now   stands   as   the   living   embodiment   of   the   Philippine culture’s unwavering resilience against the test of time,” said Gov. Edduba. “I can’t think   of  anyone   more   deserving   of  recognition   than Apo Whang-Od.”♦