It’s a long time coming, but it’s finally happened: Whang-od, considered as the last original mambabatok (tattoo maker), is nominated for the National Living Treasures Award by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
The National Living Treasures Award, or the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (Gamaba), is equivalent to a national artist award.
The news was confirmed by Ferdinand Isleta, the NCCA-Cultural Communities & Traditional Arts Section chief, who said that they are finalizing documents to be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Whang-od, 97, is known for her mambabatok way of making tattoos. Instead of using a needle, she uses a thorn plucked from either a calamansi or pomelo tree, and uses a combination of charcoal, ash, and water for her ink. She started tattooing when she was 10 years old. People flock all the way to Kalinga, a 10 to 12 hour trip to Manila, to get “inked” by Whang-od. So many people go to Buscalan Village to see her that many are worried that she is being exploited and not being given time to rest. Thankfully, she is teaching the art to young people in the village.
The Gamaba is awarded to those whose skills in a Filipino traditional art has reached a level of technical and artistic excellence, and has been passed down to the present generation. The NCCA’s Gamaba Committee and an Ad Hoc Panel of Experts then ensure that the skill is transferred to others, and that Filipinos appreciate and take pride in the artist.
Whang-od is the third Gamaba recipient from the Cordillera region, following performance artist Alonzo Saclag and casque-maker Teofilo Garcia.
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