Vogue Philippines recently unveiled the cover of their April 2023 beauty issue featuring Apo Whang-Od, an Indigenous tattoo artist who has made history as the oldest person to ever be showcased on a Vogue cover.
Whang-Od, a 106-year-old woman, is renowned as the last and oldest “mambabatok,” which is a traditional Kalinga tattooist who uses the hand-tapping technique called “batok.” Traditionally, only male members of the Butbut tribe practiced this technique, but Whang-Od became the first woman to do so at the age of 15 under her father’s guidance.
Vogue Philippines has praised Whang-Od, who also goes by Maria Oggay, for her tireless efforts to preserve the tradition at a time when Western beauty standards threatened to erase the tattoo technique. With the arrival of American Catholic missionaries in Kalinga, tattooed women from the village were forced to cover up their tattoos, which were seen as shameful.
During her career, Whang-Od has tattooed thousands of international visitors who traveled great distances to be tattooed using only a bamboo stick, a pomelo tree thorn, water and coal.
As the craft is traditionally only passed through bloodlines and Whang-Od has no children, she made the decision to teach the technique to her grandnieces, Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan.
This significant choice ensured that her legacy would be carried on by a woman.
Palicas and her cousin Elyang are the tattooists who greet and ink the hundreds of visitors who come to their village each day. After her apprentices finish the tattoos, Whang-Od marks them with her signature three dots representing herself and her apprentices.
Although Whang-Od is the last “mambabatok” of her generation, she is “not afraid that the tradition will end” because she is preparing the next generation of tattoo masters.
The editor-in-chief of Vogue Philippines, Bea Valdes, revealed that Whang-Od was selected as the cover model through a unanimous vote because the publication’s staff agreed that “she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture.”
“We believe that the concept of beauty needs to evolve, and include diverse and inclusive faces and forms. What we hope to speak about is the beauty of humanity,” Valdes added.