Whang Od Sensation: A Call to Stop Commercialization of Culture

Marie posted her experience when she went up to Buscalan Village in the mountain province to get a tattoo from Whang Od. For those who do not know, Whang Od is 92 years old and she is the last Kalinga tattoo maker, according to specialists this practice is about a thousand years old. Getting a tattoo from her shows that you value tradition or their tribes culture. Though, it is not that case anymore according to Marie.


Photo from Christopher Newsom

Whang Od has become a sensation and people from all walks of life come to get a tattoo from her. She says that tour guides exploit Whang Od, tourists were not disciplined, hundreds line up to get a tattoo from Whang Od and she feels that she will die of exhaustion from this as she cannot even take a good break to eat her meal.

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KALINGA BROTHERS and SISTERS. A CALL TO STOP THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF OUR CULTURE…MY STORY BEHIND THE “WHANG OD SENSATION…My husband n I recently came from buscalan tinglayan to experience the uniqueness of cordilleran culture and express our love for it. We were wishing to have our tattoos for us to promote love for indigenous culture, as we have been doing for the past years. But to our dismay, the 3-day experience angered us as we have witnessed a desecration of culture.

The famous “whang od” legend as we have known it has been corrupted both by villagers and tourists. These are our experiences:

1. One should bring thousands of pesos when going there because everything has a high tag–p1,000/day for a tour guide but u need to stay there for at least 2 nights so minimum of p2,000; p300/person/night accommodation; meals paid to your host depending on what you want to eat; tattoo minimum of p500 for the smallest size—mine cost p8,000 for half an arm. P50 per “tinik” to be used for tattooing. Altogether we spent around p18,000 for the 3 day stay plus diesel. We needed to stay for 3 days because of the line of people to be tattooed.

Next issue: villagers who became tour guides are fighting over tourists, fighting over priority lines for their clients to be tattooed. We really felt greed among them. They all depend on this as their main income. When whang od dies (god forbid), they will all loose jobs. Next: the number of tourists is uncontrollable. People flock around whang od, fight for their turn to be tattooed, take pictures with whang od…sometimes leaving whang od with little air. When we were there, she and grace, her grand daughter, were exhausted for weeks of tattooing hundreds of visitors. They could not stop as the tour guides keep insisting that their guests have to have tattoos. Both of them could not even get a decent time to eat. I never saw anyone offer them meals or snacks and stopped them to rest.

Next: tattoos had no more meaning..these became just plain tattoos. Designs were drawn on a piece of wood and people just chose what tattoo they want. There were no descriptions. After being tattooed, whang od would inform the guest of the price for the tattoo and collects the payment…now this was the point for me to really get so bothered. I realized…CULTURE is now FOR SALE!!! I wanted to cry at that point.

Next: most of the tourists lacked discipline entering the village. Ladies came in their “pekpek” shorts, sexy outfits, etc. i saw a young couple having sex in the room just above the tattooing area!!! We met young groups who had marijuana during their stay. Trash all over the place. Children asking money or candy from tourists. Oh my!!! It was all a circus!!! The biggest issue…whang od is no doubt old…what could happen if these uncontrollable situations continue? Before we left the guides said that buses of tourists have booked for the long vacation because of the APEC summit. How i wish i could protest at that instant. How could they not realize what they are doing to whang od and to their village. I am sorry to say but whang od will not die of old age…she will die of exhaustion. As for me, i had my tattoo in protest of all of these. One young tourist asked me…”trip niyo po talagang magpatattoo?” I got insulted really…so j replied “no…not at all. But I am doing this to show love and advocacy for the passing of tradition. I love my country and i walk my talk.”


What do you think of this? Has it really turned out to be this way?