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Traditional hand-tap tattoo in Kalinga

By: Kim Atienza

OUT there in Buscalan, Kalinga, we witnessed the art of pagbabatok or hand-tap tattoo.

Buscalan is the home of 96-year old Apo Whang-od, the most famous tattoo artist in the Philippines. She practices the ancient art of pagbabatok which was believed to be taught by the gods themselves. It makes use of the thorn of a Pomelo plant which the tattoo artist uses like a chisel with charcoal as ink.


Unfortunately, the art of pagbabatok is dying fast. It has not been properly preserved from the start. During the time of Spanish colonialism, the Spaniards deemed tattoos inappropriate so they banned the act itself.

Pagbabatok was isolated to indigenous tribes where they used it as a means of social representation.

For those who wish to experience the pagbabatok, there is no need to travel five hours to Cordillera just to receive one from Apo Whang-od.

A mambabatok from Kalinga named Denden Wigan, a grandson of a late mambabatok.

Mr. Wigan does hand-tap tattoo at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo. During the coverage of “Matanglawin,” Wigan performed the pagbabatok on an interested party, who didn’t have time to travel to Cordillera.

When asked to compare her pagbabatok experience to the more modern type of tattooing, the guest said it was more painful at mas mabagal.

Nonetheless, she agreed it was a worthwhile experience.

TRIVIA PA MORE (Various Sources): Here are some bits and pieces of trivia from a remarkably useful book, “Living with Folk Wisdom” as written by Dr. Abercio Valdez Rotor.

Aratiles (Muntigiacalabura) bears plenty of tiny berries which are red to violet when ripe. It is sweet and somewhat aromatic.

Wild sinkamas (Pacchyhizuserosus) has enlarged roots which may remain in the soil even after the plants has dried up in summer. It is gathered and eaten raw.

Send your questions on anything and everything to Kuya Kim through my Twitter account @kuyakim_atienza using #AlaminKayKuyaKim.

Ating tuklasin ang mga bagay-bagay na di niyo pa alam. Walang ’di susuungin, lahat aalamin. Ito po si Kuya Kim, Matanglawin, only here in TEMPO.