Vogue Philippines has unveiled the cover star for their April 2023 issue: 106-year-old traditional tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od. Also known as Maria Oggay, the Filipina centenarian will be the oldest person to grace the coveted cover of Vogue. With muted silver hair, the heavily tattooed artist cuts a striking figure with soft eyes and weathered hands that carried local traditions safely into the 21st century.
Living in the mountainous village of Buscalan in the Philippines’ Kalinga province, Apo Whang-od started learning the indigenous tradition of hand-tapping tattoos when she was a teenager. A cultural icon in her own right, Whang-Od is considered to be the oldest, and perhaps the last, mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattoo artist).
Once reserved for warriors from the Butbut tribe, the tattoos held high cultural significance and had to be earned. Now, Whang-Od mostly works with international visitors, who make the long pilgrimage to Kalinga for her famous geometric designs. As long as people keep coming to get tattoos, she believes that the tradition will continue.
On safeguarding the processes of Kalinga tattoo artistry, Apo Whang-Od told CNN Travel, “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.”
For several years now, she has been teaching her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas how to create tattoos using only bamboo sticks, thorns from pomelo trees, water, and coal. The art can only be passed down to blood relatives, and Whang-od is training the next generation, just as her father once trained her.