106-year-old Philippine tattoo artist becomes Vogue’s oldest ever cover model

By Linh Le   April 2, 2023 | 08:29 pm PT
Vogue Philippines has put Apo Whang-Od, 106, on the cover of its April issue, making the tattoo artist the oldest person to ever appear on the front page of Vogue.
Apo Whang-Od is the last mambabatok in the Philippines.Photo: VOGUE Philippines/Artu Nepomuceno

Apo Whang-Od is the last "mambabatok" in the Philippines. Photo by Vogue Philippines

Whang-Od, who has lived all her life in the tiny, remote village of Buscalan, in Kalinga province in the Philippines’ far north, is the last "mambabatok" from an ancient age. "Mambabatok" means "one who pounces".

The term describes the 1,000-year-old technique used when putting ink on skin. During the process, a "mambabatok" would tap into the skin of the one tattooed – using a 30cm-long charcoal soot and water-coated bamboo stick – a thorn from a pomelo or lime tree. Traditionally, only the fiercest warriors and the fairest women of the tribe were inked, according to Vogue Philippines.

In 2007, while filming the Philippine segment of his Discovery Channel series Tattoo Hunter, anthropologist Lark Krutak came upon Whang-Od, already pushing 90, in Buscalan, according to The Strait Times.

After the episode, thousands of tattoo enthusiasts, from all over the world, make the pilgrimage to her village, despite having to travel 12 hours more from Manila.

In her interview with CNN, Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes attributed the magazine’s decision to the fact that "we felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture."

Before Whang-Od, actress Judi Dench, who appeared on the cover of British Vogue in 2020, had been the oldest Vogue cover model. She was 85 then.

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