Batok, an ancient technique of tattooing, is believed to be nearly one thousand years old. Kalinga warriors are adorned with various traditional tattoo design as well as tally marks representing their battles with the enemy of their tribe. Both men and women boast of tattoos decorating their bodies.
On the men, it signifies their courage and bravery. On the women, it is used to enhance their beauty and fertility. The tattoos command respect and special privileges in the community, and a great Kalinga warrior who’s heavily marked could inspire great fear in his enemies.
Apo Whang Od was born in 1918. Her father, Oggay, taught her the art of batok. When she was young, she tattoos herself and her friends for practice. Her other tattoos were done by her father. When her husband died in a logging accident, she dedicated her life to her craft and has now been tattooing for 70+ years.
As the last Mambabatok of Kalinga, Apo Whang Od is a living legend. But where once before the honor of receiving tattoos is earned through headhunting and combating, modern times has eliminated the need for hand-to-hand combat in resolving disputes and protecting the villages.
The young people of the Butbut tribe are no longer interested in embracing the tattooing works of their elders. The discrimination against men and women marked with tattoos has also added to the lack of interest in the present generation. Like a dying bonfire, the art of batok is now in danger of disappearing to the land of the past. Apo Whang Od is the last ember to a rich culture of traditional Kalinga tattooing.