BAGUIO CITY – Cordillera officials vow to get into bottom of things in the alleged exploitation of legendary Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga tattoo artist Maria “Apo Whang-od” Oggay during the recent trade show Manila Fame in Quezon City.
“Let me investigate the event and the activity,” promised Dir. Venus Tan of the Department of Tourism here.
The Manila Fame trade show which ran from October 20-22 brought the over 90-year-old Kalinga tattoo artist to Quezon City with the help of the Philippine Air Force.
Whang-od is said to be the last “mambabatok” (Kalinga traditional tattoo artist).
Netizens however began to show “concern” when organizers began allegedly exploiting the nonagenarian by allowing her to tattoo up to 300 attendees at the trade show.
Whang-od was even seen sleeping at a press conference where she would have been a panelist.
Accordingly, the organizers charged attendees P2,500 for a tattoo, P500 for a signature (3 tattoo dots), and P700 to see Whang-od at the press conference.
Even Philippine Tattoo Artists Guild (Philtag) President Ricky Sta. Ana was quoted by Rappler saying, “Inabuso talaga siya. Wala silang kaalam-alam na ipag-tatattoo siya pagdating sa Manila (She was really exploited. They had no idea that she would do tattoos when she got to Manila).”
Accordingly, Buscalan village leaders told Sta. Ana that doing tattoos at the trade fair was not part of their initial agreement with the show organizers though a contract signed by Whang-od and her niece stipulated to a “two-day live tattooing in Manila FAME and speaking engagement for Create Philippines.”
The agreement also reportedly stipulated that “any proceeds from the tattooing or sale of blacksmith products shall be received in whole by the talent and her companions.”
Two other tattooists who came with her also agreed to conduct live tattoo sessions for Friday and Saturday.
A netizen cited Whang-od’s case as reminiscent of the Philippine Exposition at St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 when then Governor General Philippines William Howard Taft convinced the fair organizers to feature a grand Philippine Exposition, complete with Philippine indigenous people brought to the US as living exhibits. The exhibit depicted Filipinos as savages.
Another infuriated netizen said in Filipino, “Ang paggamit kay Whang-od ay hindi lamang usapin ng exotisasyon at exploytasyon. O ang paggamit sa larangan ng tradisyunal na pagtattoo bilang kunwang marka ng maka-Filipinong identidad na dapat tunghayan. Usapin din ito ng paggamit sa kultura sa kontexto ng kapital at pagmamaniobra ng estado. Ipinamamalas din nito sa kasalukuyan ang lalim ng pagkakabaon sa kamalayan ng sistemang kolonyal.
“Marapat na makita na ang kalagayan nila Whang-od, ng kanyang mga batang apo, at ang bayang pinagmulan ay resulta ng hindi balansyadong kaunlaran sa bansa at paurong na pagpapahalaga ng estado sa tao, abang-uri, katutubo, at kultura.”
Kalinga lawmaker Allen Jessie Mangaoang said he has to probe what really happened “and uncover the truth” into the Apo Whang-od fiasco before initiating governmental action on it. ACE ALEGRE / ABN
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