How have you been, Apo Whang Od?

December 16, 2017

Whang-od Oggay from Buscalan Tinglaya, Kalinga, is the last and the oldest mambabatok of the Philippines, the 100 year old artist has been serving since the age of 15 as a part of the village’s cultural practice of tattooing men who successfully killed infiltrators and women who wish to flaunt their beauty and wealth.

As Whang-Od’s title incorporated her into the savaging world of today’s society, the life of an innocent village elder will soon delve into the ravages of time.

The advent of Whang-Od’s flourishing career began at the time she was nominated to be one of the Philippine National Artists, and National Living Treasure; little did this villager know that these would soon turn into the most compelling punishments she’ll ever receive in the finest slammers the modern society made for her.

At the 66th Manila Fame trade show, Whang-Od went down the hill both figuratively and literally as photos from the event showing that she had been terribly exploited surfaced the internet—quite aggravating the public. Although this may or may not be real, these photos already show a lot on how we treat art, and on how we treat a human being.

A week before the event, there were already articles around the internet saying that the famous mambabatok would visit Manila for the first time this year, excited, I began reading more articles about the event,and heaven forbid but the selfish girl I was at the time would want her to extend her stay here just so I could peek and have a glance of the village elder whose crafts are being glorified by people in the most extensive ways.

After hearing the news that Whang Od started tattooing again for the event’s sake, I was rattled by the way we have objectified her so badly that our manners of art preservation were not applied well in this situation.

First, she was asked to go down the mountains for the sake of those who cannot see her, and second, the living art we should all work hard to preserve according to her will have adjusted the situation for us as it will mend the foolish desire of meeting her face to face. Third, if the speculations on the internet are REAL, I can only be ashamed of the monsters we have all been in the eyes of indigenous peoples.

From this incident, I have learned how our morality goes deep beneath the trenches of total apathy. Is this really the price of art? Or is this merely nothing but the result of insensitiveness?

How have you been, Apo Whang-Od? Have you really been well?