When Whang Od dies

At around 102 years old, the beloved Apo What Od, aka the oldest mambabatok (tattoo practitioner) in the Philippines, will eventually pass away. I’ll admit that thinking of this and even writing about it can seem like a downer, but as someone fascinated with death, I couldn’t help think about what might happen. This will kick-off a ripple effect around the “Filipino” tattoo industry, cultural practitioners, social media, and government. Here are my predictions on what will happen. 

Whang Od mural in Buscalan, Kalinga

No shit

  • People will post their pictures with Whang Od along with their tattoos telling stories of their trip.  
  • Tribute portrait artwork all over social media and murals. 
  • The enterprising will sell shirts with her image with symbols popular in Buscalan. Then people will call them out for capitalizing on her death. 
  • There will be endless news programs and mini-docs on TV telling the same story over and over. 


  • Grace and Elyang will be elevated and continue the tattoo tourism in Buscalan. The trips to the province will slow-down, causing the local economy to decline. This will force Grace and Elyang to do more work in Manila, where the money is. 
  • The younger tattooists, like Joanne, will take on more of the workload to fill the gap.
  • Machine tattoo artists start to tattoo patterns found in Buscalan. A few will attempt to hand-tap using the souvenir tools.
  • A book will be written about Whang Od by someone from UP
  • She will get some government recognition other than the Dangal ng Haraya. 
  • A practitioner named Piper of Atawu Tattoo Tradition from Cebu will be more recognized. 
  • Some Fil-Ams will return home to continue and evangelize traditional tattooing. This will include educating about patterns in different parts of the Philippines and how they relate to our cousins in the Pacific. This person will also gather current hand-tappers outside Kalinga and teach them how to make traditional tools with boar’s tusk. When that happens, they’ll be called fake, cultural appropriators, and not even a real Filipino. 


  • There will be a showbiz tribute on a Sunday show complete with dancers painted with patterns.
  • The flashboard currently used will expand to Korean Hangul characters.
  • There will be a white guy that will specialize in hand-tapped Kalinga patterns. 
  • The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines will declare the popular designs and the 3 dot signature as the property of the Kalinga tribe.
  • With the increasing number of people attempting to hand-tap, the government will implement a law that only allows it practiced in Kalinga or limits the practice.
  • People will get mad about this post because they think that it’s negative and may have somehow contributed to her death. 
  • There will be a movie about Whang Od portrayed by a Mestiza…Oh wait, there was a TV show that already did that.