KALINGA—The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) conferred the Dangal ng Haraya Award for Intangible Cultural Heritage on manwhatok (tattoo folk artist) Apo Whang-Od Oggay tonight, June 25, at the Kalinga Capitol Plaza, Tabuk, Kalinga.
It is the first time that the award has been given to a traditional or folk artist. Past recipients have been the late Sen. Edgardo Angara, architect Augusto Villalon, journalist Susan Calo Medina, anthropologist and former National Museum director Jesus Peralta, and Sen. Loren Legarda.
Whang-Od was conferred the award by NCCA chairperson and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario.
Eva Oggay, the honoree’s grandniece, told the Inquirer that Whang-Od had turned 102 years old last February.
In a special resolution on May 2, the NCCA board recognized Whang-Od as one of the oldest living traditional whatok (tattoo) practitioners of the Kalinga community.
In the resolution, the NCCA recognizes Whang-Od “as a living vessel of a traditional practice, [who] deserves honor and acknowledgment for her contributions, particularly by bringing to greater attention the indigenous practice of tattooing and Filipino culture in general.”
Whang-Od became a social-media sensation last year when netizens complained of how she was “exploited” by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem), an agency under the Department of Trade and Industries.
Citem organized the Manila FAME trade fair of Philippine arts and crafts and invited Whang-Od to Manila to demonstrate her art and tattoo several guests.
When she was seen dozing off, netizens protested about how she must have been overworked by Citem despite being at least 100 years old.
Many netizens made references to the infamous 1904 St. Louis expo in the United States in which the American colonizers brought to North America indigenous people from the Philippines who later died because of the harsh climate.
But Whang-Od’s relatives said she was simply bored by the proceedings since they were carried out in English or Tagalog which she could not understand.
Apo Whang-Od has long been recognized as a master tattooist.
Local and international tourists flock to her village in Buscalan to get inked with traditional Kalinga designs, especially her signature linear three-dot design, and witness the outstanding whatok techniques. She’s trying to pass on the craft to younger Kalinga women.
Apo Whang-Od’s work as a manwhatok and her influence on the Filipino traditional arts scene, said NCCA, have heightened awareness about the culture of the Kalinga community—their worldview, traditions and expressions.
Dangal ng Haraya is given to living Filipino artists, cultural workers, and historians, artistic or cultural groups, historical societies, institutions, foundations and councils, for outstanding achievements in relevant fields that have made an impact and significant contribution to Philippine culture and arts.