Journey To Buscalan : Meeting Whang-Od, The Last And the Oldest Mambabatok

After our outreach program (check: The Kids of Buscalan), we finally had the chance to visit Whang Od. We were once again greeted with an overwhelming crowd but not as many as before. Mr Atong Laguiao assisted us all through out. We all waited patiently to get inked by the living legend. Seeing Whang Od was actually satisfying enough but I don’t think my trip will be completed without getting her signature tattoo. I just had my very first tattoo that day after all (which was still painful that time) so how much pain three dots will bring right?

Who Is Whang-Od?

Whang-Od Oggay who is also known as Maria Oggay just turned 100 last year. Despite such age, you can still see a great strength in her. She is described as the last and the oldest mambabatok. That means, her lineage is the last of their kind. Considering that the pambabatok is not being taught to people outside her heirloom, the remaining mambabatok of the Butbut Tribe which includes Whang-od’s grandnieces Grace Palicas and Ilyang Wigan and their offspring try their best to continue the thousand year tradition of their tribe. It was believed that when anyone outside her bloodline started tattooing, the tattoo might get infected.

IMG_4129tWhang-Od also shares an interesting yet heartbreaking love story. She once had a relationship with a Butbut Warrior named Ang-Batang. She performed a batok to him after his first victory in battle. Traditionally, batok is being earned by male headhunters after succeeding a battle, protecting the village or by killing enemies.

Unfortunately, many elders are against their relationship as they believed that the bloodline of Ang-Batang is not pure. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that Ang-Batang was forced to marry Whang-Od’s best friend Hogkajon through an arranged marriage. Ang-Batang died from a logging accident during the Second World War and Whang-Od was just 25 back then. Whang-Od was never married to anyone and she has no children either. It means that she has no direct descendant to inherit the practice of pambabatok.

Whang-Od however trained her grand niece Grace Palicas to prevent their tradition from dying. Eventually, some other bloodline successors like Illyang Wigan and the rest became interested to their ancient tradition and decided to continue the pambabatok. I was lucky enough to get inked by both the youngest and the oldest mambabatok during our trip to Buscalan.
IMG_4120tHowever, as far as the intricacy of the tattoo is concerned, nothing can come close to Whang-Od and her successor Grace (Gracia) Palicas. The rest were not directly or properly trained by Whang-Od. Like what San Chai told me while performing a batok to me (Check: Inked By The Youngest Mambabatok) , she was never trained by her elders and she only learned how to perform batok by herself.
IMG_4119tBy the way, if there is anything that will make Whang-Od extremely happy, it would be Coco Martin. She is indeed a big fan and many tourists are offering her some items with the pictures of Coco in them.

The Pambabatok

The batok is done using indigenous materials. The tattoo ink is composed of charcoal diluted into water. This will be tapped on the skin through the thorn end of a pomelo tree which is really abundant in their area. When we went there, Whang-Od was not really doing any patterned tattoo but tapping her signature dots. Her signature tattoo is composed of three linear dots. Surprisingly, Whang-Od’s tattoo is more painful that the tattoo i had with San Chai. They said that the three dots represent Whang-Od and the two of her bloodline successor that she personally trained which includes Grace and Ilyang.
Unlike the batok session i had with San Chai where we can take home the exact thorns she used to have our tattoo (she uses new thorn per session), Whang-Od is seemingly not fond of replacing the thorn until they are no longer sharp. That is one thing that worries me that day. I mean, as far as the safety is concerned, using the same needle for 10-15 consecutive sessions is quite a risk.
I understand the fact that she only has to use it for three small dots per session yet the risk is still a possibility. But hey, I decided to have it anyway! I was so overwhelmed when i saw Whang-Od and I don’t want to miss this opportunity to be inked by her. Luckily, she replaced the thorn a session before mine *wink.
IMG_4124tThe signature tattoo of Whang-Od is only Php100 and you can give the money directly to her. of course, if you are generous and kind enough, you can give her more or better yet offer her some foods and other items. I saw some tourists offered her some chocolates, personalized mugs and other clothes and grocery items.
By the way, as you can see, Whang-Od is wearing colorful beaded jewelry (head piece and necklace). It is a traditional accessories worn by the women of Butbut Tribe. Mr Atong Laguiao mentioned something about the worth of Whang-Od’s head piece but I just can’t remember the exact amount but the price was quite overwhelming.
Just in case you do not know, Whang-od was formally nominated to the National Living Treasures Award which I believe she personally deserve. NCCA is now finalizing the documents to confer Whang-od and have Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte sign it. Once conferred, Whang-od would get a gold medallion, a monthly allowance of Php 14,000 and a starting grant of Php 100,000. (Source: Wikipedia)
Of course, who ever got a tattoo, will get a photo opp with Whang-Od too!

Here’s a video of my batok session with Whang-od


Things You Should Know About Buscalan

► Buscalan is one of the 20 Barangays of Tinglayan
► The home of Whang Od and the Butbut tribe
► The village is not accessible by any vehicles (a trekking is required)
► As of 2015 Census, Buscalan has 703 Population with 134 household
► Tour Guide rate ranges from Php1000 per group of five
► Homestay rate ranges from Php300 per person per night
► Tour Guide is highly encouraged as they are the one who can accommodate your schedule with Whang Od.
► Tour guides can also guide you to nearby waterfalls and hot springs
► There is a power supply in the village but weak to zero communication signal
► There’s a school and also a basketball court
► There’s also a chapel nearby
► Take note that there is also a Tourism fee of Php 75

It was passed 3pm when all of us were done with our Tattoo session. It started to rain again and we really have to leave Buscalan before it gets dark. We didn’t know that there will be a strong typhoon ahead of us and we got stranded in Banaue but believe it or not, it was actually a blessing in disguise! More about our terrifying experience in my last #JourneyToBuscalan Entry.

For the mean time, feel free to watch this video summary

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19 thoughts on “Journey To Buscalan : Meeting Whang-Od, The Last And the Oldest Mambabatok

  • May 4, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    It’s been my dream to see Whang-od since I was in college, but I’m so afraid to get a tattoo! Did it hurt? She does indeed deserve the title of a living national treasure. How long was the wait time when you got there? I hope she will continue to live a long and healthy life 🙂

  • May 16, 2018 at 1:17 am

    Wow! After reading this post I’m filled with so many emotions. Sadness for Whang-Od’s story, awe in her strength, curiosity in learning about the tribe and fear that you had a tattoo done by the same needle used by others.. Wow!

    What an absolutely incredible story and experience. Thank you so much for sharing! It’s unlikely I’ll experience this for myself, but I can live through your blog! Keep up the amazing work!

  • October 6, 2021 at 2:45 am

    This is absolutely amazing to read about her. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • October 6, 2021 at 10:38 am

    Great blog! It is always amazing to meet new people

  • October 6, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    What an honor to get to meet Whang-Od and have her finish out your tattoo. Thank you for sharing this experience as it’s likely something I won’t get a chance to do.

  • October 6, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Wow what an incredibly spiritual experience that must have been. These traditional people are becoming increasingly rare so it’s important to celebrate them.

  • October 6, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    Whang-Od sounds like an amazing person to meet! I love learning about tattoo practices in different cultures, but it would definitely bother me that the needle doesn’t get changed.

  • October 6, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    This is amazing. I bet it hurts a lot but as someone who loves her tattoos, I’d give it a go.

  • October 6, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    Wow, you did quite a bit in Buscalan. So cool that you got to meet this living legend and get inked by her. She seems like an amazing person. It is awesome she is still healthy and still doing the tatoos.

  • October 6, 2021 at 7:20 pm

    What an amazing adventure! Such a blessed and beautiful woman.

  • October 6, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    This is amazing! We have to keep the stories and lives of our elders alive. There is so much richness there!

  • October 7, 2021 at 12:18 am

    Wow, I’ve never heard about this place, and it’s awesome you got to meet a local legend and learn more about this place.

  • October 7, 2021 at 12:41 am

    She is a legend. I’m sorry about the latest controversy about her and Nas but I respect both of them

  • October 7, 2021 at 12:43 am

    I had friends who had tattoos from Apo Whang-od and they told me they all had a great experience. The place too was truly a beauty

  • October 7, 2021 at 12:44 am

    She is one of the reasons I want to visit the Philippines. She`s in indeed amazing

  • October 7, 2021 at 4:18 am

    meeting Apo Whang-od has long been on top of my list. This post makes me feel like I`ve met her too

  • October 7, 2021 at 9:00 am

    I want to get my first tattoo with her doing it. She’s a legend. I just hope she can stay for a while.

  • October 7, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    I am so happy you get to meet Apo Whang-Od. She is one of our few national living treasures.


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