Having seen news in CNN about the oldest tattoo artist in my country, Philippines, left many thoughts in my curious mind. People said there is a documentary in Discovery Channel or in National Geographic. I have never seen it. So I decided to leave my mind curious about her. I never tried to google her, ever, because I was waiting for the right time for me to reach her place. Meeting her up close was something I was excited about. Getting inked by her is an ultimate desire of authenticity of my being.
Finally, I touched the land of Kalinga; Tinglayan in particular. But Whang-od (or Fang-od, as pronounced by the natives), live in far away Buscalan.
A two-hour trek on a drizzly morning was filled with enthusiasm. I did not feel any hardship of passing thru steep slippery mud. I did not look down and see how deep the cliffs were below me, but looked up at the beautiful highlands with pine trees instead, exactly how Calayan’s Nagudungan Hill looked like. In my view, the rice terraces of this place, was far more sustained than that of the famous ones in Ifugao.
Then there she was, busy with her artwork, not to be disturbed.
I watched her as she stroked her hand with a stick to get the design on the travellers’ skin.
After a day’s work of four people getting inked, she stood. I thought she rested.
I saw her feeding her native black pigs and piglets. At 92 years old, she had this strength of getting on with her daily living. I was watching where she would go. I asked what food she eats. Salt and sugar are not in her list.
I showed her my design for the tattoo. She said something translated as: “If I ink this on your arm, many will come chasing you. It is beautiful.” I laughed and excitedly told her, “So be it.” J
She prepared to cook the rice for our meal that night. I sat beside her, as I cooked a little bit of dinner, eggs, noodles and corned beef. Her other two sisters were there too. I tried to start some chat, as their granddaughter Emily, was there to translate. It was a fun cooking moment. After cooking, Fang-od, peeled off some sweet kamote, for feeding to the pigs the next day.
In the morning, I chanced upon her, cooking rice for breakfast. After which, she prepared the meal for her pigs and piglets.
I was getting ready to be tattooed, and there she was already, preparing the stuffs: Ash from burnt bark of pine trees, a needle like thorn from a citrus tree, and a bamboo stick.
I watched her eye as she looked at my arm. She painted the design. The sound of her sticks beside my ear still lingers now. Un~ending hymn of “Toktoktoktok.”
I remember her wiping her eyes of tiredness. She would re-do, re-ink to perfect the picture on my arm. She would laugh at me whenever I scream in pain. She would pinch my skin and smile.
Her sense of humor in her own language would have given me instant laughter instead of a delayed one after a translation. She told her nieces who were around at that time: “Get pregnant by the man you marry and not just anyone else.”
She remains single until now. She admitted that she had been kissed. But never touched. J We would be giggling as she tells the story in her own language, as if I understood. She jokingly told me, “My parents did not like my suitors.” I told her, “You can have a boyfriend now, your parents would not know.” She replied, “I am old and not pretty anymore.” I told her, “Oh, you are beautiful.” And I touched her tattooed arms. And we would giggle together.
I helped her remove her first clothing over five blouses. There, exposed are the tattoos in her arms and neck, and nape. Oh wow.
After her authentic artwork in me, I gave her my headware. She immediately wore it. She would wrap her arms around me spontaneously and touch my face with her skilled hands.
How I wish I could talk her language and understand every word she utters. I am more interested in her life than anything else.
I would love to live till 92 like her.
In the morning, at four, I went out to see the moon brightly lighting the mountains, as the clouds passed by it. If this were what Fang-Od had been seeing her entire life for her to reach her age now, then, I wish I lived here. If it were the tattoos on her sleeves that made her reach her age, then I’d like to be tattooed that way too. If it is because of her skill, then I would like to learn being a “mambabatok.”
Too much for daydreams. There can only be one: the authentic oldest, kicking & alive, tattoo artist, making the tribal tattoo alive to this day; the pretty fun lady “mambabatok,” Whang-Od, Wang-Od, or Fang-od. Oh how deeply honored I am to be inked by her.
Let her tribal spirits live in my tattoo.
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******For those who wish to see her and reach her for an ink, please leave a message at https://www.facebook.com/journeyingpinay ~ i can tell you how to go there.
Thank you to those who inquired and had the guts to ask me thru sms, you rock. Hope you got a tatt now.