Whang-od, considered as the last original mambabatok (tattoo maker), could possibly be declared a National Artist if things go as planned. According to the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is conducting a validation on the tattoo artist and her art. If she is validated, she will formally be nominated in the list of National Living Treasures Award, which will then be forwarded to President Rodrigo Duterte for final approval.
Whang-od, 96, 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. 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 bid for National Artist began in 2015 when thousands of netizens signed an online petition. It later gained more attention when Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed a resolution asking the tattoo artist to be recognized as a National Artist.
To become a National Artist, one must be an “inhabitant of an indigenous/traditional cultural community anywhere in the Philippines that has preserved indigenous customs, beliefs, rituals and traditions and/or has syncretized whatever external elements that have influenced it.” The nominee must also practice a folk art tradition that has been in existence and documented for at least 50 years, and must have consistently produced “works of superior and distinctive quality” for a significant period. At the same time, they must also have an established reputation in the art as master, and must pass on their skill to other members of the community.
If she is declared a National Artist, she will be given a golden medallion, a grant of P100,000, and a monthly stipend of P10,000. They will also be given medical care and hospitalization benefits, as well as funeral assistance.
Should Whang-od be declared a National Artist? Share your thoughts below!
Follow When in Manila Koji for more stories like this!