Getting a Tattoo from Whang Od, the Kalinga Tattoo Maker

Tatuaje tribal Kalinga en Filipinas

Buscalan, Whang Od’s village

After a long trip from Manila to Tabuk, another from Tabuk to Tinglayan and a long walk to Buscalan village (more than 24 hours in total), I had arrived to Buscalan, to get my first tribal tattoo.

It wasn’t any kind of tattoo but a tribal tattoo from Whang Od, the Kalinga tattoo maker of the Philippines. Until not so long she was the last Kalinga tattoo maker but now her niece has inherited the ancient art of making tribal tattoos.

Getting my tribal tattoo in the Philippines

‘Whang Od is having a nap, would you like to have a bit more coffee meanwhile?’

‘Ok, sure.’ How to say no to this coffee!

I taste it with great pleasure and I think to myself that only in a few places can coffee taste so good, surrounded by majestic mountains and authentic people. Around me there were some pigs, naked kids running all over and tranquility, the tranquility of living in the now.

How to get a tattoo from Whang Od

I write on my notebook, it’s been such a long day that I hardly remember what I’ve done in the morning. My more than twenty hours of travel have been worth it. And here I am, I’m going to do it!

Whang Od wakes up serene, tranquil, demonstrating great composure and wisdom, a characteristic from someone that has seen a lot in life. She comes out from a small room where she sleeps and smiles at me. She doesn’t speak English but her look tells me everything I need to know.

I can’t believe she’s right here in front of me. I was told she’s 94 but she doesn’t look like it at all, I wonder what her secret is.

Whang Od the Kalinga tattoo maker

She’s wearing a small shawl on her head and her body is full of tattoos. She sits on the floor and starts playing with the kids. In order to feel her kindness I don’t need to speak her language. She’s the last tattoo maker of the kalinga tribe and that has made her famous in the whole world.

Buscalan with Whang Od

I’m happy by the fact that there are not a lot of tourists around. It may be because of the time that takes to reach this place.

For the Kalinga, the tribal tattoo symbolises beauty in women and bravery in men (only warriors could have them) for about one thousand years already.

I remember the first time I heard about her, back in September 2013, in the temple in Manila. At that right moment I heard about her I knew l would be going there at the end of my trip. It was clear to me.

‘So, are you ready?’

‘Yes, I think so. But, should I do it here or in which place? Here it’s very visible…’ I tell the guy, leaving in his hands such an important decision and still hoping his wise answer would be the right one.

They take me to another place where the tools are ready. Two stools, a coconut bowl for the mix and a needle, what a needle!

Ok, there’s no turning back now…

While her relative explains my drawing to Whang Od I say to myself, oh my, I’m really going to do this! I’m going to get a tribal tattoo from Whang Od!

Whang od tattoo in the Philippines

The drawing I’ve chosen is a symbol that has a deep meaning for me and has gained even more meaning with this Asian trip. People can choose from any of the tribal designs they have on a notebook but I knew what I wanted to have.

I knew it since the day I discovered that I used that symbol every time I wrote something down or when I doodled from time to time. I also realised I had a lot of accessories with that same symbol like necklaces, t-shirts, bags…

I sit on a low stool and I extend my arm. I prefer not to look. This is funny because when I have blood drawn it disgusts me…

I observe the nail once again, it’s about four centimetres long and it’s made out of a thorn that’s joined to a bamboo stick. She also works with a Calamansi twig, a fruit that’s similar to the lime and grows in the Philippines and is used in most of the meals especially to season the soups.

My tribal tattoo from Whang Od

She starts hitting with the stick. I close my eyes. Oh my, this is really painful. It’s a kind of pain that goes inside of you like when you’ve been pinched for long. The worst part is that the pain doesn’t go away because she keeps on hitting.

I dare to look, oh well, Alba, don’t start thinking where that nail has been before. Mom, get out of my head, stop talking to me! I know this is not very hygienic but get out, there’s no turning back.

Getting a tattoo from Whang Od in the Philippines

It’s done. Phew, it’s over! I’m glad the tribal tattoo was a small one…

Whang Od goes to her room to rest and her niece, the only person that has inheritated this art, comes to me. She’s about 26 and studies at the university but meanwhile she’s helping her aunt and one day she’ll be probably the only one making tattoos in Buscalan. At least the tradition and the tattoo art will be alive.

She sits down and says, well, we have to go over again. What? Again! But it hurts! Are you sure this is neccesary?

Kalinga tattoo maker

Let’s get on the torture once again…

It’s swollen but I sing and I try to convince myself that it will be ok, that the pain will eventually vanish. I stand up, victorious, like a warrior. I got a tribal tattoo, the Kalinga tattoo art is inked in my skin!

Now what? I feel I can’t do anything with my left arm, not even dare to touch anything.

Going around Buscalan

I meet two guys, a French and a German that are travelling around and are coming here for the same purpose.

We go together to see the rice fields. There are no words to describe it, I leave you some pictures here for they talk for themselves. That moment was so precious and gorgeous that I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Rice fields in Buscalan the Philippines
Old woman carrying the rice plant.

Buscalan rice fields Philippines

Getting a tattoo in the Philippines

Getting to Buscalan in the Philippines

Rice fields and tattoo makers

Getting a tattoo from Whang Od
Rice is planted one by one. I honestly did not know how much work that could take. Once is put on the mud they have to wait several months until the rice comes out.

SAM_1421

They invite me to have dinner with them, rice and fish and then, bed time! It’s been such a long day! I talk to them and they let me sleep where most of the guests do, up in the first floor of the shack.

tattoo naroto
My freshly made tattoo =)

How do you find my tribal tattoo? What does it mean to you? Do you relate to something/somewhere/someone?

Next week I’ll be sharing with you all the why of this tattoo, the story behind it. But first I would like to know your insights!

Have a nice week!

Whang Od the Kalinga tattoo maker

*If you haven’t read the beginning of this story you can still do it here:

1) On My Way to a Traditional Tattoo

2) Are we there yet?

3) I think this is the way

¿Quieres leer más historias? - Would you like to read more stories?

10 Comment

  1. Nice tattoo! Love it and love your stories.

    1. Thank you, Jeesoo!

  2. Really interesting post! and the tattoo looks very cool, I have to say. Was having it done painful? And did you have any doubts about it whilst it was going on? Fascinating stuff.

    1. Thank you, Charlie! It was very painful as you can imagine from the video 😛 it’s like if someone would pinch you really hard for a long time. Then once you think it’s done, they do it all over again which is even more painful. It was really worth it, though! I loved the place and its people.

      I did have a lot of doubts before and when having it like the cleanliness of the place and the tools used. But I decided not to focus on that and enjoy the experience instead =)

  3. Even thought you already told me the story, it was amazing to read again. And the video! So proud of you Alba! One day.. I will get mine too 😉

    1. I don’t mind going there again! 😛 though we could take one in another tribe too 😛 ?

  4. hola! thank you for coming to our country & we are grateful too that you enjoyed your trip to kalinga. welcome to traditional tattoo. we are now part of a legend’s life. 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment =) I enjoyed every single experience in the Philippines, such a lovely country with sincere smiles everywhere! We are part of a legend’s life, indeed! Have a nice day!

  5. Dennis Coronel says:

    The Spiral of Life! very ancient…nice!

    1. It is, Dennis! Thank you for passing by =)

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