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Philippines tattoo artist is a Vogue cover star—at the age of 106

Apo Whang-Od, an indigenous tattoo artist from the Philippines, is defying age norms by gracing the cover of the April issue of Vogue Philippines at the age of 106. Hailing from the remote, mountainous village of Buscalan in the Kalinga province of the northern Philippines, Apo Whang-Od began tattooing at the young age of 16. Her expertise lies in the ancient art of batok, which involves inscribing tattoos into the skin using a thorn dipped in soot and natural dye. Vogue reports that Apo Whang-Od, also known as Maria Oggay, is the first and only female mambabatok, or traditional Kalinga tattooist, of her time. She travels to far and neighbouring villages, summoned by host communities to imprint the sacred symbols of their ancestors on individuals who have crossed or are about to cross a threshold in their lives.

Despite her age, Apo Whang-Od remains a sprightly centenarian and is passing down the ancient art of batok through the generations. Tourists, especially younger generations such as Gen Z, are flocking to Buscalan to experience the rather tortuous traditional tattooing treatment. Apo Whang-Od’s feature in Vogue Philippines serves as a testament to the fact that age is just a number and that one is never too old to continue pursuing their passions and leaving a mark on the world.

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