Tattoo master Whang-od hopeful tribe will continue her work

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 20) — In the mountain village of Buscalan in Kalinga, surrounded by rice terraces and breathtaking views, resides the country's oldest tattoo master Whang-od Oggay.

Dubbed "The Last Mambabatok" or the last remaining hand-tapped tattoo artist in the country, Apo Whang-od told CNN Philippines that she is happy people appreciate her work.

"People traveling to Buscalan just to get tattoos from our village means a lot. It also helps us preserve our dying culture," Whang-od said in her native Kalinga language.

Buscalan, which is around 450 kilometers north of Manila, is home to about 200 households. Getting to the village takes some 12 to 15 hours of road travel.

Whang-od said the attention her village is getting as a result of her work is rekindling the interest of her tribe's children in tattooing.

"I am happy that today, children are getting interested in tattoo making, so when mg eyesight is gone, I know they will continue my work," she said.

The 100-year old tattoo master started in her craft at the age of 15.  Her tattoo ink was made of a mixture of charcoal and water tapped into the skin through the thorny end of a calamansi or pomelo tree.

Whang-od draws inspiration for her designs from nature and basic geometric figures.

For males, she designs tattoos that mean being able to protect their village.  For women, they are purely for aesthetic purposes.

"I want to give everyone a tattoo. Even celebrities can come up to our village and have one," she said.

On Wednesday, Whang-od visited Manila for the first time, through the initiative of the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the military.

She is staying until Sunday to showcase her tattooing skills at the 66th Manila FAME Trade Show, held at the World Trade Center Metro Manila and the Philippine Trade and Training Center in Pasay City.

Grace Palicas, Whang-od's grand niece, said the tattoo master is excited to be in Manila.

Despite her age,  Whang-od said retirement is not an option, but she is thankful that younger generations are now ready to continue her legacy.

"As long as I can see well, I will keep giving tattoos. I'll stop once my vision gets blurry," she said.