A decade or so ago, people with tattoos are judged as previous inmates or menace of society. Even now, a slight stigma is still placed on those with visible tattoos. Personally, I still get disapproving looks from some church servants and old ladies.
But it was different in Buscalan. All the old ladies were heavily tattooed - traditionally done! After getting a small one for myself, I can't help but admire these people. Just imagining the physical pain they must have endured makes my stomach churn.
Among the ladies back then, tattoos were considered as ornaments. The more you have, the more beautiful. While among the men, tattoos served as recognition for doing something for your tribe. The most common of which is headhunting.
During those times, tribal wars were still common. And if you are able to kill a warrior from another tribe, then you've done a good job protecting your own - which gives you the right to get tattooed.
But since there are no longer tribal wars, the tattooing tradition of Kalinga people is dying (if it hasn't yet.) That is why I decided to visit Kalinga - while the last Kalinga tribal tattoo artist is still alive.
Apo Whang Od of the Butbut tribe is the last Kalinga tribal tattoo artist alive. Currently, she is training her grand niece, Grace to master the art.
A. Getting There
From Bontoc, you can ride a jeep to Tinglayan. Since the number of trips are limited, it can get really crowded - especially because deliveries to and from the town is also carried through that jeep. From Tinglayan, you can ask Kuya Francis Pa-In to accompany you to Whang Od's place. Francis Pa-In is a popular tour guide in the area, and is also a good friend of Whang Od and her family.
When I visited, Kuya Francis was already booked so he recommended me to his brother in law, Kuya Ronnie. He was a nice fellow. It was easy to get along with him without feeling the need to talk much or share much - it gives me the solace that I like.
B. Getting Tattooed
Getting batok tattoo is probably the most painful "self inflicted" pain I've ever done just for the sake of it. In terms of pain, machine tattoo is nothing (at all) compared with traditional tattoo. I cannot even compare. I'm not even completely sold on the idea that it is safe.
Still, I do not regret getting tattooed.
Far from it, I want it.
It's no more a mark of a warrior.
But it is a mark I chose for myself.
I'll live (and die) with it.
By the way Grace will be attending this year's Dutdutan Convention!
See you around!