The Kalinga tattoo artists’ village
Buscalan, October 2017.
High up in the mountains of Buscalan in the Philippines is the ButBut village, where an old woman lives, with wispy grey hair and worn, wisened skin. She might be 98 or 99 – some days of the week, she claims to be 104. Her name is Whang Od, and she’s the oldest tattoo artist in the world.
When Whang Od’s uncle first taught her to tattoo, she was only 15 – and the first girl to ink the village warriors’ chests. Men were senior and superior. Women didn’t have any rights.
Now Whang Od is determined to pass her skillset forward – to the young girls of the village. Aware that she hasn’t long left to live (she’s already designed and built a tomb in preparation), she wants the tradition to continue – and for women to be driving it forward. These days, with a class of more than 12 girls aged nine years old and up, her all-female team of apprentices ink each other during playtimes at their local primary school – before heading home to tattoo crowds of customers and earn their role as equals in the community.