After appearing on the cover of the Philippine issue of Vogue at the age of 106, an indigenous tattooist from the Philippines who is credited with helping to preserve a style of the art known as batok has broken the record for the oldest Vogue cover star.
Apo Whang-Od, who hails from Buscalan, a remote mountain community in the northern Filipino province of Kalinga, started getting tattoos at the age of 16. She was formerly referred to as the last mambabatok or traditional Kalinga tattooist, but she has since motivated a new generation to take up batok, according to Vogue. Using a thorn that has been dipped in soot and natural dye and is affixed to a bamboo stick, the tattoo is applied by hand using a batok.
The Kalinga tribe’s insignia, which stands for beauty, strength, and bravery, has been inscribed on the skin of hundreds of people who have traveled to Buscalan, according to a post on Instagram by Vogue Philippines. She is known as the last mambabatok of her generation.
Apo Maria “Whang-Od” Oggay symbolizes the strength and beauty of the Filipino spirit.
Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe signifying strength, bravery & beauty on the skin.
— Vogue Philippines (@vogueph) March 30, 2023
Tattoos typically stand for beauty for ladies or bravery for male warriors. But, as Whang-Od has become more well-known for her work over the past 15 years, visitors have traveled to her town in greater numbers to get tattooed. According to Vogue Philippines, more young people are starting to train in the profession.
Bea Valdes, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, told CNN that the choice to feature Whang-Od on the cover was made by all members of the staff. We believed she embodied everything admirable about Filipino culture, according to Valdes. “We think the idea of beauty needs to change to encompass a variety of inclusive faces and forms. The beauty of humanity is what we wish to discuss.”
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One of the rare Vogue cover stars from an Indigenous tribe, Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, is believed to be the oldest person to appear on the magazine’s cover. At 85 years old, Judi Dench was the oldest cover star for British Vogue in 2020.
Whang-Od was given a postal ID in 2017, which allowed her to enjoy benefits provided to centenarians in the Philippines even though she lacks a birth certificate. The only way a mambabatok can pass on their expertise is through their bloodline, thus Whang-Od has taught her grand-nieces to carry on the tradition. She did, however, say that she intended to keep tattooing as long as her vision permitted.
Why not continue inking while I’m still able to see?
“she reportedly told Vogue Philippines. “I won’t stop until I can’t see anymore, so I can keep giving them the mark of Buscalan, the mark of Kalinga,” she said.