106-year-old indigenous Filipino tattoo artist makes history as Vogue’s oldest cover star

She is considered the country’s last and oldest mambabatok.
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One-hundred-six-year-old tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od has made history by becoming the oldest person ever to grace the cover of Vogue. The indigenous Filipino tattoo artist is featured in the April issue of Vogue Philippines, celebrating her as the last mambabatok of her generation.

Whang-Od — also known as Maria Oggay — is considered the country’s last and oldest mambabatok or traditional Kalinga tattooist. She learned her craft from her father when she was a teen, residing in the mountain village of Buscalan, in Kalinga province.

She uses a simple technique of hand-tapping tattoos with a bamboo stick, a pomelo tree thorn, water, and coal. In the past, these tattoos were symbols of honor for the native Butbut warriors. Today, many of her customers are foreigners who want to get her unique geometric patterns on their skin.

“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,” said Vogue Philippines in a post on social media.

The art can only be passed down to blood relatives. Currently, Whang Od has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas for several years.

“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,” said Bea Valdes, Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief.

Whang-Od broke the record for the oldest Vogue cover star with her appearance in Vogue Philippines. The previous record holder was Judi Dench, an actress who was 85 years old when she posed for British Vogue in 2020.

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Image: Artu Nepomuceno (Vogue Philippines)

Bryan is a geek at heart and a tech enthusiast by choice. He has a strong background in corporate communications, marketing services, and customer relations having worked in the telecommunications and banking sectors for over two decades. In his spare time, he enjoys watching clips on YouTube and binge watching shows on Netflix.

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