“Kalinga village of Buscalan sits high up in the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Philippines. Although all of the tattooed warriors are now gone, the village is teeming with tattooed elderly women that wear the artistry of the last Kalinga tattoo artist: 89-year-old Whang-Od who learned the art of batok (tattoo) from her father.
Whang-Od tells me that when she was twenty-five, the man she was in love with died in a logging accident. Instead of looking for a new husband, she dedicated her life to tattooing and now sixty-four years later she is the last practitioner of an art form that many scholars believe is nearly one thousand years old.
Although decades of missionization, colonial administration, and modernization have gradually led to the abandonment of Kalinga batok, enduring fragments of this rich tradition of body art continue to be worn by Kalinga elders: including the last generation of headhunting warriors whose numbers have perhaps dwindled to some thirty men. These World War II veterans who bravely fought Japanese machine gunners with spears, shields, and axes incited great fear in their Nipponese enemies; because once captured their heads would be taken and their bodies left to decompose in the moist air of the mountainous jungle terrain.
One of the last Kalinga warriors (mingor) to wear the traditional tattoos of his ancestors is 88-year-old Lakay Miguel (Lakay means “respected elder”). Miguel earned his marks for inter-village combat before WWII and for the heads he took during the great conflict. Because he killed or wounded more than two enemies he was permitted to receive the bikking tattoos on his chest which are the headhunter’s primary emblem. But Miguel’s bravery on the battlefield was unsurpassed and he was also allowed to receive the tattooed khaman or head-ax on his rib cage…..”