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Things You Should Know Before Getting Tattooed by Apo Whang-Od at Buscalan Village, Kalinga

Apo Whang-Od is a renowned Filipino tattoo artist from Kalinga.

By: Kriszel T. Rago | July 07, 2023
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Apo Whang-Od, Buscalan Village Kalinga, tips before getting a tattoo

Step into the enchanting realm of Buscalan Village Kalinga, where you'll meet the legendary Apo Whang-Od and immerse yourself in the ancient art of traditional batok tattooing.

Images: @palicasgrace (L); Jazmin Buenaventura (R)

While Baguio City and Ilocos region is a destination for most tourists in the northern part of the Philippines, other provinces up north offer unique and memorable experiences. Buscalan Village in Kalinga, in particular, is one such province worth visiting.

Buscalan Village Kalinga is a small remote village located in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. It is known for being the home of Apo Whang-Od, the last traditional tattoo artist of the Butbut tribe. The village is nestled in the mountains, offering beautiful scenery and a glimpse into the indigenous way of life.

Getting tattooed by Apo Whang-Od, the legendary traditional tattoo artist from Buscalan Village Kalinga, is a unique and culturally significant experience. Before you embark on this journey, here are some things you should know and some tips before getting a tattoo by Apo Whang-Od.


The Artist



Apo Whang-Od – Buscalan Village Kalinga – Tips Before Getting A Tattoo, Apo Whang-Od

Gracia Palicas, grandniece of Apo Whang-Od and one of the remaining Mambabatok of the Butbut tribe at Buscalan Village Kalinga, also gets her traditional tattoos done by her master, Apo Whang-Od.

Image: Joy Legaspi Cuales

Apo Whang-Od, often called the "Last Mambabatok" (traditional tattoo artist), is a renowned Filipino tattoo artist from the Butbut tribe in Buscalan Village, Kalinga. She has gained international recognition for mastering the traditional hand-tapped tattooing technique.

Apo Whang-Od is known for her intricate and symbolic Kalinga tattoo designs. Using a pomelo thorn attached to a bamboo stick, she manually taps the ink into the skin, creating permanent works of art. Her tattooing skills have been passed down through generations, and she has practiced this ancient art form for over 80 years. Many people consider it an honor to be tattooed by Apo Whang-Od of the Buscalan Village, Kalinga, due to her expertise and the cultural significance of her art.

Due to her age and limited availability, you should plan your visit well and be prepared for a potential wait to get a tattoo from Apo Whang-Od. Additionally, her apprentices, who she has trained, also perform tattoos in Buscalan Village Kalinga and can allow visitors to experience the traditional art form.


The Art



Apo Whang-Od – Buscalan Village Kalinga – Tips Before Getting A Tattoo, Buscalan Village Kalinga

Don’t leave Buscalan Village Kalinga without getting tattoos from the legendary Apo Whang-Od herself.

Images: Jazmin Buenaventura (L); @palicasgrace (R)

Apo Whang-Od from Buscalan Village Kalinga practices the traditional hand-tap technique, also known as ‘Batok.’ She manually uses a pomelo thorn attached to a bamboo stick to tap the design into your skin. This method can be more painful and time-consuming compared to modern tattoo machines.

Tattooing in Buscalan Village Kalinga is deeply rooted in the indigenous Kalinga culture. It's essential to approach the experience respectfully and understand its cultural significance. Engage with the community, learn about their traditions, and respect their customs and way of life.

Apo Whang-Od specializes in traditional Kalinga designs, usually consisting of symbols, animals, or patterns with specific meanings. However, she can also create personalized designs or incorporate elements of your choice. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the traditional Kalinga designs, discuss your preferences with Apo Whang-Od or her apprentice, and ask for some tips before getting a tattoo from the artist.

Due to Apo Whang-Od's fame and limited availability, there may be a long waiting time to get a tattoo. It's advisable to plan your trip well in advance and be prepared to spend a few days in Buscalan Village Kalinga. Remember that there might be a queue, and tattoos are done on a first-come, first-served basis.


The Community



Apo Whang-Od – Buscalan Village Kalinga – Tips Before Getting A Tattoo, tips before getting a tattoo

Immerse yourself in Buscalan Village, Kalinga’s culturally rich community.

Images: Cecille Smac (L); @palicasgrace (R)

Buscalan Village Kalinga is a small, close-knit community. It's essential to be respectful and follow their customs. Seek permission before taking photographs, ask for guidance from the locals, and adhere to any guidelines provided by the village elders.

English is not widely spoken in Buscalan Village Kalinga. The primary language is Kalinga, but some locals may understand Filipino/Tagalog. Communication may be challenging, so having a translator or guide who can assist you during your visit can be helpful.

Getting a tattoo by Apo Whang-Od is an opportunity to support the local community of Buscalan Village Kalinga. The fees charged for tattoos go directly to the artist and her apprentices, helping to sustain their way of life and preserve their cultural heritage. Consider donating respectfully or purchasing local crafts to further contribute to the community.

Remember, getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-Od is more than just a personal aesthetic choice; it is an immersive cultural experience. You can make the most of this extraordinary opportunity by approaching it with respect, understanding, and appreciation for the Kalinga tradition.


The Travel (How to get there)



Apo Whang-Od – Buscalan Village Kalinga – Tips Before Getting A Tattoo, Apo Whang-Od

Feed your eyes with scenic views as you go to Buscalan Village Kalinga.

Image: Joy Legaspi Cuales

Buscalan Village Kalinga is situated in Tinglayan, Kalinga, in the northern part of Luzon Island in the Philippines. It is approximately 700 kilometers north of Manila. The village is quite remote and not easily accessible.

Here are different ways to reach Buscalan Village Kalinga:

If you're coming from Manila or Quezon City, take a bus going to Tabuk City Kalinga; from there, ride a jeep bound for Tinglayan and alight at Bugnay;
If you’re coming from Manila, Quezon City, or Baguio, take a bus going to Bontoc, and from there, ride a jeep or bus to Tabuk, then ride a jeep bound for Tinglayan and alight at Bugnay;
If you’re coming from Tuguegarao or Cagayan, take a van to Tabuk; ride a jeep bound for Tinglayan and alight at Bugnay.

After alighting at Bugnay, at the turning point, tourists need to hike for almost an hour and 30 minutes to reach the Buscalan Village Kalinga, as it is inaccessible to any land vehicles.

In recent years, Buscalan Village Kalinga has seen increased tourism due to Apo Whang-Od's fame. Basic accommodations such as homestays and guesthouses are available for visitors who wish to spend the night in the village. However, amenities may be limited, and it's advisable to bring essentials such as food, water, and other necessities.


Buscalan Village Kalinga and the tattooing tradition of Apo Whang-Od offer a unique opportunity to engage with Philippine indigenous culture and witness a traditional art form that is slowly fading away. It's an experience that combines cultural appreciation, artistic expression, and natural beauty, making it a memorable journey for those seeking a deeper connection with the Philippines' rich heritage.


If you need help planning your Baguio and Ilocos itinerary, visit Yoorekka Magazine for recommendations and ideas!


Stay safe as you travel! Follow social distancing protocols and observe health precautions wherever you go. Have a great trip!


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About Kriszel T. Rago
Kriszel is a writer, an aspiring multimedia journalist, and a strong-willed, pierced & inked modern-day kikay tita. As a former iskolar ng bayan–still one at heart, Kriszel is passionate about social issues and everything under the sun. She loves to read, watch documentaries, thriller-mystery series, and anime, cook for her loved ones, and play Valorant & Mobile Legends with friends. Kriszel dreams of being a multiple degree holder and traveling to every province in the Philippines.
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Disclaimer: All articles in the Consumers Magazine of Yoorekka are for general information and entertainment purposes only. Although careful research has been made in writing them, Yoorekka does not make any warranty about the completeness and accuracy of all information presented in our articles. Our content is not intended to be used in place of legal, medical, or any professional advice.
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