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Why Getting a Tattoo from Apo Whang-od May Not Be Appropriate

Explore the reasons why getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-od, the legendary "Mambabatok" Kalinga tattoo artist, may not be appropriate.

 |  13 min read

Explore the Cultural, Ethical, and Environmental Considerations of Getting a Tattoo from Apo Whang-od, the Legendary "Mambabatok" Kalinga Artist of the Butbut tribe.

Maria "Apo Whang-od" Oggay, renowned as the oldest "mambabatok" or traditional tattoo artist from the Butbut tribe, a part of the Igorot people in Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines, is a name known beyond her mountainous homeland. Her unique tattoo artistry has attracted global attention. Before you decide to get a tattoo from her, let's explore the important aspects you should consider.

This article aims to shed light on the decision to get a tattoo from Apo Whang-od, the oldest "mambabatok." We're not here to discourage you but to help you understand the cultural, ethical, and environmental factors involved.

In the following sections, we'll delve into cultural sensitivity, informed consent, commercialization, ecological impact, and responsible choices. By the end, you'll have a well-rounded perspective to make an informed decision about getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-od, the renowned "mambabatok."

Apo Whang-od, the legendary 'mambabatok' of the Butbut tribe in Kalinga, known as the last traditional Kalinga tattoo artist. Explore the rich history of Kalinga tattoos and their cultural significance.

Cultural Appropriation

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation means when one culture takes stuff from another culture, sometimes without understanding or caring about what it means to that culture. For Apo Whang-od's tattooing, this is important to talk about.

The Cultural Significance of Kalinga Tattoos

Kalinga tattoos, like the ones Apo Whang-od does, are very important in their culture. They're not just drawings on skin; they have big meanings. They tell stories about bravery, belonging, and who you are in the Kalinga tribe. Each tattoo is special and has its own meaning, like marking important events or showing your tribal group.

Diminishing Cultural Value through Commercialization

There's a problem with making Kalinga tattoos too commercial. This happens when lots of people, often tourists, come to get these tattoos just because they think it's cool or trendy. They might not understand what these tattoos really mean to the Kalinga people. This can make the tattoos lose their true value and become just fashion items.

Unintentional Cultural Insensitivity

If you get a tattoo from Apo Whang-od without knowing or caring about its cultural meaning, it can be seen as disrespectful. For the Kalinga people, these tattoos are special and important. When people get them without understanding or respect, it can hurt the feelings of the Kalinga community.

When you think about getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-od, it's important to learn about the culture and respect it. You should understand that these tattoos have a deep meaning for the Kalinga people. Approaching this tradition with respect and understanding is the right way to do it.

Challenges and Controversies

Exploitation and Abuse

In recent years, Apo Whang-od's journey as a traditional tattoo artist has faced significant challenges. Notably, she was sent to Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines, to perform traditional tattoos on a large scale.

During this time, Apo Whang-od was tasked with tattooing countless people, often in less-than-ideal conditions. The intense demand for her art raised concerns about her physical health, given her advanced age. It also prompted questions about whether her presence in Manila was driven more by commercial interests than her own well-being and cultural preservation.

The Nas Daily Controversy

Within the broader conversation about cultural appropriation, one significant controversy involved Apo Whang-od and the Nas Daily scandal. Nas Daily, a popular social media influencer, visited the Kalinga region and featured Apo Whang-od in his videos. However, the visit and its portrayal in the videos sparked outrage and accusations of exploitation.

Critics argued that Nas Daily exploited Apo Whang-od's fame and age for his own gain, turning her into a spectacle for online content. One key issue that emerged was Nas Daily's creation of an online course related to Apo Whang-od's tattooing without her knowledge or consent. This raised important questions about the ethics of using indigenous cultures and traditions as content without proper respect, understanding, or consent.

Apo Whang-od, the last mambabatok of Kalinga. She is the oldest and most respected traditional tattoo artist in the Philippines. She has been tattooing for over 80 years, and her work is considered to be a valuable cultural heritage.

Obtaining Apo Whang-od's agreement for tattooing is not easy because she is older, and there's a language barrier. It's a challenge to make sure she fully understands and agrees to the tattoo process.

Ethical Considerations

Talking about ethics is important here. Apo Whang-od is a respected traditional artist, but she's also an older person. Some people worry that by getting tattoos from her, it might not be right because of her age. We should remember that being ethical matters when getting her tattoos.

Respecting Apo Whang-od's Choices

We must always remember that Apo Whang-od is a person with her own thoughts and choices. It's important that any tattoo process respects what she wants. She should be able to say if she wants to do the tattoos or not. Her choices should be respected.

When we talk about getting tattoos from Apo Whang-od, we should think about these things. It's not only about what we want, but also making sure the process is right and respectful. It means making sure she knows what's happening and is okay with it. It also means thinking about ethics and respecting her choices, even though she's an older traditional artist.

Commercialization and Its Impact

Tourism's Influence on Apo Whang-od's Tattooing

Tourism has significantly influenced Apo Whang-od's traditional tattooing. Her fame has attracted visitors from various places who want to receive her tattoos. However, this influx of tourists has led to changes in how the tattooing process is handled. To accommodate the high number of visitors, Apo Whang-od's younger relatives, whom she has trained, are the ones primarily performing the tattooing.

The Commercialization of Her Art

The commercialization of Apo Whang-od's art is a matter that needs attention. It means that her art has become a business, and this transformation can have adverse effects. When an art form is primarily viewed as a way to make money, it may lose its genuine value and significance. It risks becoming a commodity rather than an authentic expression of culture.

Negative Consequences for the Kalinga Community

The commercialization of Apo Whang-od's art can also impact her community, the Kalinga tribe. When an art form becomes predominantly focused on financial gain, it can potentially alter the way of life within the community. While it may bring in more tourists, it can also introduce challenges. The traditional meanings associated with the tattoos could gradually diminish as they become more associated with commercial interests.

Responsible Tourism to Preserve Traditions

To mitigate these negative consequences, responsible tourism is crucial. It means that when tourists come to receive tattoos from Apo Whang-od, they should do so in a way that respects her culture and traditions. They must appreciate the true significance of these tattoos and their importance to the Kalinga tribe. Responsible tourism plays a pivotal role in maintaining the authenticity of indigenous traditions like Apo Whang-od's tattooing while respecting their cultural roots.

In conclusion, tourism and the business aspects surrounding Apo Whang-od's art have brought about notable changes. However, responsible tourism serves as a means to safeguard the authenticity of indigenous traditions like Apo Whang-od's tattooing while respecting their cultural roots.

Apo Whang-od is sitting on the floor with her client. She is holding a bamboo stick with a needle attached to it. The needle is dipped in a mixture of charcoal and water, which is the ink she uses to tattoo her clients. Photo: LEE (CC BY 2.0)

Environmental Considerations During Tourism Visits

Environmental Impact of Tourism

When tourists visit Apo Whang-od's village to get tattoos, it's not just the tattooing process that has environmental implications. Tourism itself can have an impact on the environment. The arrival of many visitors can lead to increased waste generation, such as plastic bottles and wrappers, which can harm the local environment if not managed properly.

Conservation of Natural Resources

Furthermore, the surge in tourism can put pressure on the village's natural resources. More tourists mean a higher demand for resources like water and energy. If not managed responsibly, this can strain the local ecosystem and deplete resources that are essential for the community's livelihood.

Preserving the Ecosystem

Preserving the natural beauty of the surroundings is crucial, not only for the environment but also for the cultural significance it holds for the Kalinga tribe. The lush landscapes, rivers, and mountains are integral to their way of life and traditions. Ensuring that the ecosystem remains healthy is vital for the sustainability of the Kalinga community.

Responsible Tourism Practices

To address these environmental concerns, responsible tourism practices are essential. Visitors should be encouraged to minimize their environmental footprint by reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and respecting the natural surroundings. This not only helps protect the environment but also preserves the cultural and ecological integrity of the area.

In conclusion, while the focus is often on the environmental impact of traditional tattooing, it's equally important to consider the environmental effects of tourism. Responsible tourism practices play a vital role in preserving the natural beauty and resources of Apo Whang-od's village and ensuring a harmonious coexistence between visitors and the environment.

The house of Apo Whang-od, the last living traditional tattoo artist in Kalinga, Philippines. She used to tattoo Kalinga headhunters, and her work is considered to be a valuable cultural heritage. Photo: Maryawnie (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Responsible Engagement and Alternatives

Exploring Responsible Alternatives

For those intrigued by Kalinga culture and traditions, there are responsible alternatives to consider. Instead of getting a tattoo directly from Apo Whang-od, you can engage with the community in ways that respect their heritage without exploiting it.

Participate in Cultural Workshops

One meaningful option is to participate in cultural workshops. These workshops offer a hands-on experience where you can learn about Kalinga art, music, dance, and traditional crafts directly from the community members. This not only deepens your understanding of their culture but also supports local artisans.

Support Local Artisans

Supporting local artisans by purchasing their handmade crafts is another way to contribute positively to the community. These crafts often reflect the rich cultural heritage of the Kalinga people, and your support helps sustain these traditional art forms.

Practice Responsible Tourism

When visiting the Kalinga region, it's essential to practice responsible tourism. This includes respecting the environment by minimizing waste, conserving resources, and following local guidelines. Additionally, being respectful and considerate towards the local customs and traditions is crucial. Avoid intrusive or disrespectful behavior that could harm the community's way of life.

Consider Getting Tattoos from Apo Whang-od's Relatives

If you are determined to get a traditional tattoo, consider getting one from Apo Whang-od's younger relatives. They have been trained by her and are skilled in the art of Kalinga tattooing. By choosing this option, you not only receive a meaningful tattoo but also relieve Apo Whang-od from the physical strain of tattooing, given her age. This supports the continuation of the tradition while respecting her well-being.

Reflect on Cultural Engagement Choices

Lastly, it's essential to reflect on your choices when engaging with a culture that is not your own. Take a moment to consider the impact of your actions on the community. Are you contributing to their well-being and cultural preservation, or are you unintentionally exploiting their traditions for personal gain?

In conclusion, responsible engagement with the Kalinga culture involves exploring alternatives that support the community without exploiting their traditions. Participating in cultural workshops, supporting local artisans, practicing responsible tourism, considering tattoos from Apo Whang-od's relatives, and reflecting on your choices are all ways to engage with respect and appreciation for the rich heritage of the Kalinga people.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: Is it disrespectful to get a tattoo from Apo Whang-od? A: It can be considered disrespectful if not done with cultural sensitivity and informed consent. It's essential to approach the practice with respect for her and the Kalinga culture.

Q2: What are the ethical concerns surrounding Apo Whang-od's tattooing practice? A: Ethical concerns include informed consent, potential exploitation of an elderly artist, and the risk of cultural insensitivity. It's crucial to engage with cultural practices responsibly.

Q3: How can I engage with indigenous cultures responsibly? A: Responsible engagement involves understanding and respecting their customs, traditions, and environment. Supporting local artisans, practicing sustainable tourism, and seeking informed consent are key steps.

Q4: What is cultural appropriation, and how does it relate to Apo Whang-od's tattoos? A: Cultural appropriation is when elements of one culture are used without understanding or respect for their cultural significance. It relates to Apo Whang-od's tattoos when they are obtained without proper consideration of their meaning.

Q5: Are there sustainable alternatives to getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-od? A: Yes, sustainable alternatives include participating in cultural workshops, supporting local artisans, and practicing responsible tourism to engage with Kalinga culture respectfully.

Q6: How can I support the Kalinga community without exploiting their traditions? A: Supporting the community can be done by purchasing local crafts, practicing responsible tourism, and respecting their cultural practices and traditions.

Q7: What is the history of traditional tattooing in the Philippines? A: Traditional tattooing in the Philippines has a rich history dating back centuries. It has cultural and spiritual significance for indigenous communities and varies in design and symbolism.

Q8: What are the environmental consequences of traditional tattooing methods? A: Traditional tattooing may involve using natural resources for ink. Overuse of these resources can harm the environment. Responsible use and sustainable practices are essential.

Q9: What role does tourism play in the commercialization of Apo Whang-od's art? A: Tourism has brought fame and income to Apo Whang-od's art, but it also raises concerns about cultural commodification. Responsible tourism is key to balancing these aspects.

Q10: How can I ensure that I am respecting indigenous cultures while traveling? A: Respecting indigenous cultures while traveling involves learning about their customs, seeking informed consent for any engagement, practicing responsible tourism, and being mindful of your impact on their culture and environment.


In wrapping up our discussion about whether it's suitable to get a tattoo from Apo Whang-od, the oldest "mambabatok" from the Butbut tribe in Kalinga, Philippines, let's summarize what we've covered.

We've looked into various important aspects, such as the cultural significance of Kalinga tattoos and the possible downsides of turning this art into a commercial enterprise. We've also explored the challenges of obtaining informed consent, especially considering Apo Whang-od's age and the language barrier. The impact of tourism and the potential harm it can cause to the Kalinga community has been a point of discussion. Additionally, we've highlighted the importance of considering the environment when it comes to tattooing and tourist visits.

It's quite clear that while Apo Whang-od's tattoo skills are impressive, deciding to get inked by her isn't a straightforward matter. It can be seen as inappropriate when done without respecting the culture, securing proper consent, or considering the environment.

To sum up, we urge you to approach cultural engagement with care and mindfulness. Show respect for indigenous cultures, follow responsible tourism practices, and make ethical choices. By doing so, we can honor the rich heritage of the Kalinga people while nurturing respectful and mutually beneficial cultural exchanges. Always remember, cultural appreciation should be guided by respect and responsibility.

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