Apo Whang-Od, the 106-year-old traditional Kalinga tattooist from the Philippines, has made history as the oldest person ever to grace the cover of Vogue Philippines. The April 2023 issue features Whang-Od on the cover, showcasing her undeniable grace, poise, and skill.
The move not only celebrates the artist’s remarkable life and accomplishments but also highlights the magazine’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.
Whang-od with a tattooed visitor. (Wikipedia)
Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, has been perfecting the art of hand-tapping tattoos since she was a teenager. She learned the craft under her father’s instruction and has become a master over the years.
Residing in the mountain village of Buscalan, about 15 hours north of Manila in Kalinga province, Whang-Od is considered the country’s oldest mambabatok, which translates to traditional Kalinga tattooist.
The tattoos that Whang-Od creates using just a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water, and coal were originally earned by indigenous Butbut warriors. These tattoos are now highly coveted, and international visitors seeking her signature geometric designs make up a significant portion of her clientele.
According to Vogue Philippines, “Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe—signifying strength, bravery, and beauty—on the skin of thousands of people who have made the pilgrimage to Buscalan.”
The art of hand-tapped tattoos can only be passed down to blood relatives, and Whang-Od has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas for several years. As Whang-Od told CNN Travel in 2017, “My friends who gave tattoos have all passed away.
I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because [I’m training] the next tattoo masters. The tradition will continue as long as people keep coming to get tattoos.”
For Whang-Od, age is just a number. As long as her vision remains clear, she intends to keep giving tattoos. “As long as I can see well, I will keep giving tattoos. I’ll stop once my vision gets blurry,” she said.
Whang-Od’s selection for the cover of Vogue Philippines is significant not only because of her age but also because of what she represents. Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes said that Whang-Od’s selection for the cover represents the publication’s ideals of beauty and inclusivity.
“We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture. We believe that the concept of beauty needs to evolve, and include diverse and inclusive faces and forms. What we hope to speak about is the beauty of humanity,” Valdes added.
Prior to Whang-Od’s appearance in Vogue Philippines, the record for oldest Vogue cover model was held by actress Judi Dench, who appeared on the front of British Vogue in 2020, at the age of 85. However, Whang-Od’s achievement is not just a record-breaking feat; it’s also a testament to the artist’s incredible life and legacy.