Whang Od is 91 years old. Who will follow in her footsteps and continue the ancient art of Batok?
The batok and the mambabatok, the female tattooists, are a slowly disappearing national artistic treasure. Other local, pre-colonial traditions such as tubug, various methods of teeth staining, are almost extinct. Grace is 16 years old. She has been designated by Whang Od as an apprentice who will continue the legacy of Batok tattooing. Grace has decided to also pursue college and has chosen not to wear the full chest and arm traditional tattoos that most of the elder women of the tribe are adorned with. Currently, her only tattoo is a centipede on the back of her neck. Lilibeth shared with us that Whang Od is also coaching Grace on how to interact and host guests of the village as part of the mambabatok’s role. Whang Od is helping her come out of her still-young, shy skin. Grace took me aside and we brushed each other’s hair. I could sense her finding her own tempo, conversations and personal touch while holding steadfast to her traditional responsibilities.
I will never forget laying my eyes on 91-year-old Whang Od for the first time, reminding myself that precious first impressions never leave you. Just like a stencil in tattooing, it starts with the stencil and the movements. Changes made on the surface first, with dry straw saturated in fire-darkened ink. Whang Od and her art  infused with generations of knowledge exchange, intermingle and embed ancient traditions into the deep layers of our queer bodies. Etched in blood ties, our time together is slowly being absorbed, mirroring that first stencil’s touch  now tapped into deep layers. Indeed  imprinted forever on all of us.
-Our many thanks to Stephanie Tamez, Vanessa Fixmer-Ortiz, Lili Atumpa, Daniel Darwin, Carlos Celdran, Ling Quisumbing, Art Matters, Green Papaya Gallery and Planting Rice, Naty Sugguiya and of course, to Whang Od and Grace and the Kalinga Buscalan tribe.


August 2012