Luzon,  Philippines,  Travels

What You Should Know about Getting a Tattoo in Buscalan Village

The year was 2018 and you’re a young adult with a tattoo-free skin from head to toe. You woke up to a dark blue sky melting into warm colors of sunrise; on your last day in the peaceful village of Buscalan. You were about to pack your things when it just hit you: I won’t leave this beautiful place without a tattoo. Fearlessly, you got your first tattoo and the next thing you know, a living legend, the master tattooist is hand tapping her three-dot signature on your waist. If you’re thinking of not missing out on getting inked by the living legend too; hence, getting a tattoo in Buscalan Village, here are the things that you should know!

Batok: The Traditional Hand-tap Tattooing, An Overview

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about on our visit in Buscalan Village in Tinglayan, Kalinga is on their hand-tapped traditional tattooing. Originally, Batok or hand-tap tattoos on their skin signifies a milestone on their lives – marriage, success in battle and so on.

Before, these tattoos are only exclusive for the [Cordilleran] tribes as it is part of their culture. As time passed, it has become a form of art where they have shared it to the non-members of the tribe. Among the well-known member of their tribe that a lot of travel and tattoo enthusiast would often seek after is Apo Whang Od.

About Apo Whang Od

Maria Oggay, popularly known as Apo Whang Od is considered as the last Mambabatok of the Butbut tribe. This lady centenarian has been hand-tapping tattoos on her tribesmen’s skins for decades. In the past years, her hard work in keeping the tradition of Batek has been recognized. On June 2018, the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCAA) gave her a National Cultural Heritage Award. In the same year, the Senate nominated her for GAMABA (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) or the National Living Treasure Award.

Traditionally, they could only train someone within their bloodline. However, Apo Whang Od didn’t bear a child. She is the last of the Mambabatok of the villages in Kalinga and she didn’t have anyone to pass the tradition on. Initially, she had her niece, Grace Palicas, trained. When tourists learned about it and they started flocking the small village, that’s when they trained Elyang Wigan, too. Other young Butbut picked up from their practice and started doing it too to cater to the surge of tourists visiting their village.

Most of the time, people would travel to Buscalan Village to get inked by Apo Whang Od. However, due to old age, she could only manage to ink her signature on the skins of the travelers. But on days when she is down for some tattooing especially the less complicated ones.

Getting a Tattoo in Buscalan Village

The Traditional Tattoo Tools

The hand-tap tattoo artists use unique tools in their craft. They use thorns from calamansi or pomelo tree as a substitute to needle mounted on a bamboo stick they call as gisi. The thorn is dipped on the ink, a mixture of charcoal and water on a coconut bowl. The mambabatok, hand-tap tattoo artist, uses another stick that is heavier than the bamboo stick where the thorn is mounted to tap it against the skin.

How Batok is Done

Initially, you choose and show your design to the tattoo artist. As you do, the tattooist will set up the thorn on the gisi and prepare the ink. Once you’ve decided, the artist will create a pattern of your desired tattoo design on your skin using the ink, a blade of dried grass for straight lines and bottle caps for the circles. Once the pattern is laid on your skin, the tattoo artist will start repeatedly tapping the gisi and let the thorn mark the ink into your skin. The process usually takes 30 minutes for small and simple designs.

Photo by Mike Santiago of Upper Ground Concept

Traditional Tattoo Designs and Rates


Presently, there are several designs one could choose from as he or she decides about getting a hand-tapped tattoo. You’d know that it is a tattoo from the Cordillera due to its distinct design characterized by lines and dots. They usually represent the flora and fauna, celestial bodies like the sun and the moon and others. Fun fact: Whang Od and Grace thought of some of these designs and started offering it to everyone even the ones outside from their tribe.

Here are some of the traditional tattoo designs from Headhuntr. Check each photo for the name of the design and its meanings:


Their rate usually starts at Php 500.00 for a 2×2″ and smaller tattoo design. It usually takes 30 minutes to finish the basic one. However, if you wish to get a bigger tattoo, communicate it with them for the price and the duration of your stay needed to finish it. After getting inked by the younger tattoo artists, you may fall in a long line for Apo Whang Od’s signature. This costs Php 300.00 with an additional Php 100.00 for a photo opportunity with this living legend.

Tattoo Aftercare

To avoid getting infection or getting a dull tattoo, you should follow some aftercare tips religiously. Among those are the following:

  1. Refrain from touching or scratching it.
  2. Wash it with fragrance-fee, mild soap and pat it dry with a clean cloth at least twice a day.
  3. Apply petroleum jelly or Virgin Coconut Oil on the tattoo at least twice a day.
  4. Refrain from engaging into strenuous activity for at least 48 hours.
  5. Stay away from moist and damp environment.
  6. Do not wear tight clothing around your new tattoo.
  7. Refrain from soaking it in water especially saltwater, river or any bodies of water where you can be exposed to bacteria.

Traditional Tattoo Outside Buscalan

By popular demand, some travel organizers would host and bring Buscalan tattooists outside the province to cater to the tattoo enthusiasts. You may take this opportunity instead of going on a long drive to Kalinga for getting a tattoo in Buscalan Village. Recently, I was able to get my second tattoo done by Mesie Paclay here in Cavite.

Other places to see and explore in North Luzon:

Meanwhile, here are the other places in north Luzon that you may want to explore after getting a tattoo in Buscalan VIllage:

Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.


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