Controversy swirls over 100-year-old tribal tattoo artist at Filipino trade show

A fierce backlash has broken out

Anger has erupted over alleged exploitation of a famed tribal tattoo artist at a recent event.

100-year-old Whang-Od, a legendary Filipino tattoo master, was transported from her home in the tribal village of Buscalan to the capital for the Manila FAME trade show by the Philippine Army and Air Force.

She performed her ancient craft of hand-tapped Filipino tattoos at the weekend event. She uses just a few simple tools – thorns from a pomelo tree, bamboo sticks and coal – to achieve her aesthetic and has spent 80 years inking her tribe.

While many ‘tattoo tourists’ travelled from all over the country – and further afield – to see the master at work, others slammed the trade show’s decision to transport Whang-Od as ‘a blatant act of exploitation’.

After a photograph of Whang-Od sleeping at the show went viral on social media, it drew thousands of angry reactions from fans who accused the organisers of using the centenarian for commercial gains.

One user barked:

Another said:

And this guy was in shock:

However, photojournalist Miguel Guzman was at the event and said it wasn’t her energy levels that were concerning. He told the BBC: ‘It was her first time in Manila. There were a lot of people who were excited to see her and to get tattoos from her and she was definitely happy.

‘But I wouldn’t say she was exploited. Organisers did take good care of her to ensure she was in good health. I saw her myself and I wouldn’t say she was tired. The problem I felt going on was the lack of translation and communication.

‘A lot of people around her were speaking in English and Tagalog and where she’s from, she can’t understand that, she would only know her local dialect,’ he added.

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