Buscalan, Whang Od’s village
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
*If you haven’t read the beginning of this story you can still do it here:
1) On My Way to a Traditional Tattoo
3) I think this is the way