I first saw Fang-od lying on her home’s wooden floor. Fang-od got up, welcomed us to her home, and prepared coffee and lunch for us. And, while partaking the prepped meal, we had a conversation with her, with Manong Francis as our translator, about tattoos and the preservation of the tradition.
When they were still teenagers, Fang-od and her friends sought to learn from the late tattoo master of their tribe. There were about five of them who underwent training for doing the traditional tattooing. All of them initially practiced it. The others, however, later on chose to get married and raise a family. Fang-od was the only one who pursued mastering the art and went on to become the last Kalinga tattoo artist.
We were told that Fang-od taught her niece, Grace, how to do the traditional tattooing. But, Grace’s heart is not on it. I was surprised to find out that this was the case. I assumed that anyone from their tribe would consider it a privilege to be trained by and learn from Fang-od and become her successor. But, I later on found out that the younger generation didn’t want to keep the tradition because of the stigma attached to tattooed Kalinga women.
There were stories about people from the village treating the tribe differently because of their tattoos. It was a surprise for me. Based on tradition, tattoos on Kalinga women signified that they were considered beautiful in their tribe. And, the men who had tattoos were only those who have participated and won a tribal war; thus, making them the courageous and strong ones. So, I thought that it would be considered a privilege. But, upon learning that there was a stigma attached to it, I got why the younger generation wouldn’t want to continue the tradition. It’s sad, though, because this is an art and it’s worth preserving. It’s something that they can call their own.