When I was young, I was never fond of skin art or what they call tattoo. I thought of it as dirt on the skin and I didn't understand why people would stain their skin. I remember back then tattoo remover doesn't exist so there is no going back when you get it.
Later in life, things have gotten a bit more challenging than it already is. Relationship ending, many circumstances where it doesn't favor me, and running away from home trying to escape and discover the world. I was a rebel. Although, a rebel is a bit extreme word to describe me. I think I was more of an "I am going to get what I want from the world" kinda kid. I wanted to be out there. I always have good grades, I was a good kid, I never get addicted to anything as what mom would think I would be getting into in high school. I couldn't even like cigarettes back then or even alcohol. The only rebellious thing I have ever done was to fall in love at a young age.
Love was the first reason to get my first tattoo. It was never for anybody, but for me. I'm one of those hopeless romantic peeps who believe in everlasting love. To that, I decided to get my very first tattoo. The heart, and infinity on both of my wrists. As I believe love should be eternal whether it is to love the world, other human beings, arts, or just love.
At the same time, I also got my G cleft tattoo on my neck. Music was my first love. I can't play any instrument (I've tried) but I am more into vocals. I remember picking up the microphone when I was very young and started singing. I've always been associated with singing. I was a member of a choir, was in a singing group, singing for a competition, and used to sing for bands before. Singing and listening to songs is one of my therapy going through hard times. So, I decided to have a G cleft tattoo on my neck. They are just tiny ones because I still want to hide them. Hiding my tattoo is part of my personality as well. I don't show who I am to people because I'm also very reserved. Funny because I am very friendly too. My best friend would describe me as a "walking contradiction".
Fast forward to 2017.
I was aching for a new tattoo. I rejected the idea that once you have a tattoo you would want more. Turns out, it is true. A tattoo is an art of expression much more like songs, paintings or poems. You do it to express. I was expressing my core emotions, who I am in this world, or what I am capable of in life.
Anyway, one time on the Discovery channel I saw tattoo artist from the mountain of Kalinga, Philippines. I don't remember how old she was then but she is now 102 years old. She is the last and oldest "mambabatok" artist. Mambabatok means traditional Kalinga tattooist. During the old-time, she only gives the tattoo to the warrior of their tribes. These warriors have to earn the tattoo by protecting the village from enemies. She would give them a tattoo to represent how many people the warrior has killed in the fight. These warriors don't exist now.
On the Discovery channel, Lars Krutak, an American anthropologist, visited Whang-Od to get his tattoo done. This was back in 2007 and at the time if you want to get a tattoo from Whang-Od you have to live in the village and be one with the people. Whang-Od gets to decide if you are worthy of their tribe tattoo.
I thought to myself, I need to get her tattoo. She embodies a story of our past and I love being connected to our past. Fortunately, the odds were in my favor because not only I found friends to go with you but you can now just go there and get the tattoo. After the story about her surfaced the internet, people from around the world flew to the Philippines to meet her and obviously to get her tattoo. Imagine how busy that could get for her and for her village?
Sitting on a bus for 10 hours was tiring but I am excited to be out of the city as a break from work. When you reach Kalinga province, you will have to spend another hour on a jeepney. Then, getting on a motorbike to get closer to the hiking point. At that point, I was already exhausted and hungry. Although, being on the roof of the jeepney and seeing the amazing view of the Kalinga province was one of my favorites memory. It was a bit scary but worth it.
After traveling for 12 hours, the travel is not over. You have to hike to get to the top for possibly another hour. Hiking in the middle on the day when it is the hottest temperature in the Philippines, exhausted, hungry, and unfit for the hike. I was in for big trouble. I thought I was dying! I really thought I won't be able to finish the hike and get on top. I was holding the group. Embarrassing, I know. My friend was trying to pep-talk me but I just realized how unfit I was. Seeing that I am holding the line, was kind of a big push for me. But I swear to god I feel like dying. I grew up in the tropical climate but that was just way too hot if you also add the other factors it was pretty brutal for me.
Was I being a baby? hell no! The tour guide told us that somebody died there trying to hike a few months before we went. I guess just prepare your mind and body.
Don't worry, I am writing this now because that means I survived that hike but yes it was brutal. Nevertheless, I was proud of myself and my friend was also proud. But you know, deep inside I just want to bonk him in the head and yell "I was dying!"
We wanted to get the tattoo early that day but as I had imagined it was busy. There was a long cue for Whang-Od so we decided to spend the day in our accommodation. According to my friend, Whang-Od doesn't tattoo fully now, she just put her signature in the tattoo once you get it from her apprentice. I wasn't even surprised. She is very old and to have 50 people on the cue on that day, that's tiring. Honestly, I was there feeling bad for her and thought maybe I don't need a tattoo from her.
The next day, I had the best local Kalinga coffee watching the sunrise behind the rice terraces. Best life ever!
About the tool, they use charcoal and thorn of the pomelo tree. If your pain tolerance is low this one is not for you because it is painful. I heard that some quit in the middle of the session because they couldn't tolerate the pain. Another thing is that, if you get a tattoo from Whang-Od the pain is possibly four times or more because she doesn't have the control as she used to have when she was younger. She is still very good considering her age but the pain is more if you have a tattoo from her. I was still optimistic to get a tattoo from Whang-Od but thinking she must be very tired.
I was right, Whang-Od was too tired the next day. A doctor even came to take a blood test from her because she got sick and they need to check her health status. We decided to get the tattoo from her apprentice and visit her instead. They said she would still do her signature but we didn't want to tire her even more. We were just happy to meet and talk with her. She loves little gifts so we have brought some cookies for her. She loves those.
Whang-Od despite her being too tired still managed to be so accommodating and bubbly. She was happy to meet us and see our tattoos. I'm sure she is proud of her apprentice for the great work they have done on us.
So, the tattoo I got from her apprentice means strength and courage. This represents so much of what I have been through the years before that. I had some pretty challenging years where I was almost broke and nearly become homeless with my dog. And with my dog passing away a couple of years after that, it was just a lot to take. When I got the courage and strength tattoo, I'll admit that I felt like a warrior. I know some have an even more difficult life than I have but I was near to the "giving up" point of my life.
They don't have a lot of options with designs because it is a tribal tattoo, so I had one that I made for myself. I had Whang-Od's apprentice tattooed the head of an arrow on my Achilles to represent that I am only going up or ascending from thereon.
Lately, I've been daydreaming of getting a bigger tattoo and I just have the right design for that.