Whang-od (alternatively spelt as Fang-od) Oggay, known as the last and oldest mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist) rose to widespread recognition over the last decade after the American anthropologist Lars Krutak visited her in 2007 and documented the Butbut tribe's longstanding tradition. But it was not until then-budding photographer Jake Verzosa's extensive photography book, The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga, did "the last mambabatok" reach such international fame and national distinction for her cultural contributions.
The book was first co-published by the Philippine-based gallery Silverlens and the German publisher Gerhard Steidl in 2014. After its win at the Steidl Book Awards in Singapore in 2016, a second edition of the book was launched in an international art fair dedicated to photography in Paris. The series of intimate black-and-white portraits from the book were further showcased through a travelling exhibition that has reached Amsterdam, Denmark, Paris, Nepal, Chicago, China, and most importantly, at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. It also left an impression in Ontario, Seoul, and Los Angeles among cultural enthusiasts, photographers, and artephiles.
By 2018, Whang-od was given the prestigious Dangal ng Haraya Award by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and still part of the list of exceptional Filipinos nominated to receive the National Living Treasures Award.
Verzosa's photographs of Whang-od and her fellow tribespeople have put them on the cultural map. But going back to his childhood, this achievement must have been a far-fetched dream that neither he nor the Kalinga women did see coming.
Read Also: Whang-Od: The Last Tattoo Artist