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106-year-old Indigenous Tattoo Artist Becomes Vogue’s Oldest Cover Star

An Indigenous tattoo artist from the Philippines, Apo Whang-Od, has become the oldest Vogue cover star at the age of 106.

Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, is from Buscalan, a remote village in the mountainous area of the Kalinga province in the northern Philippines. She is a master at hand-tapping tattoos and has been perfecting the art since she was a teenager.

Whang-Od learned hand-tapping tattoos under her father’s mentorship, carrying on the thousand-year-old practice of “Batok,” according to Vogue.

“Batok” is a traditional tattooing art form that involves tapping the tattoo into the skin by hand using a thorn dipped in soot and natural dye and is attached to a bamboo stick. It was used as a status symbol for the headhunters of Kalinga. While men were tattooed for bravery, women were marked mainly for fertility and beautification.

Whang-Od has been described as the last remaining mambabatok, or traditional Kalinga tattoo artist, and has since inspired a new generation to learn Batok, said Vogue

In a tweet, Vogue Philippines said: ‘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.”

“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 master,” Whang-Od told Vogue.

“The tradition will continue as long as people keep coming to get tattoos,” she added. “When visitors come from far away, I will give them the mark of Buscalan, the mark of Kalinga, for as long as my eyes can see.” 

Vogue Philippine’s editor-in-chief, Bea Valdes, told CNN that it was a unanimous decision to feature the tattoo artist on the cover. 

“We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture,” said Valdes. “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.”

The centenarian unseats Judi Dench as the oldest-ever Vogue cover star. Dench was featured on British Vogue’s cover in June 2020 at age 85.


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