Vogue Philippines Cover Of Oldest Living Mambabatok Gets Global Nod

The legendary Apo Whang-Od is the face of the magazine’s beauty issue, showing the depths of Filipino identity and history across generations, receiving recognition from global media outlets and celebrities like Halle Berry.

For its April Beauty Issue, Vogue Philippines has chosen living legend Apo Whang-Od Oggay as its cover star. The 106-year-old has been training and inspiring a new generation of mambabatok artists, teaching them the ways of a thousand-year-old indigenous tattoo craft. Now, she continues to make history by being the oldest person to ever be featured in the front cover of Vogue. 

Apo Whang Od for Vogue PH
Apo Whang-Od/Photography by Artu Nepomuceno for Vogue Philippines

“In this issue we honor women, wise and wild, shaped and fashioned in their own image, by their own hand, writing their own history,” says Vogue editor-in-chief Bea Valdes.

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The story—shot by Artu Nepomoceno, written by Audrey Carpio, and produced by Anz Hizon—traces the life of Whang-Od as the last mambabatok of her generation, her protégés and grandnieces Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan, and the revival of hand-tapped tattooing and its transformation it into a hybrid artform. 

Apo Whang Od with Grace Palicas for Vogue PH
Apo Whang-Od with grand-niece Grace Palicas, who will continue their craft/Photography by Artu Nepomuceno for Vogue Philippines

A History of Filipino Beauty

Whang-Od has been hand-tapping tattoos since she was 16, as mentioned in the official Vogue Philippines cover story. Tattoo anthropologist Dr.Lars Krutak states that she was the first and only female mambabatok of her time, traveling to neighboring villages to imprint sacred and ancestral symbols onto the skins of those who have experienced or will experience an important life event. 

In pre-colonial times, the marks on a woman’s skin were desirable symbols of beauty, bravery, honor, and wealth. As such, tattoos on women were often done for fertility and beautification purposes. 

Apo Whang Od for Vogue PH
Photography by Artu Nepomuceno for Vogue Philippines

These markings only became a source of “shame” upon the arrival of American Catholic missionaries in Whang-Od’s municipality of Kalinga, as girls were asked to cover them up. Since then, less and less women in succeeding generations practiced the ancient tradition.

However, while the art of the mambabatok has ceased within Kalinga itself, efforts to preserve the historical art form continue through the support of external groups, as well as the commitment of Whang-Od and her grand-nieces to the craft. 

“I will give them the tatak Buscalan, tatak Kalinga for as long as my eyes can see,” asserts Whang-Od in the Butbut language. 

Apo Whang Od for Vogue PH
Photography by Artu Nepomuceno for Vogue Philippines

Raising Global Awareness

Whang-Od’s feature in Vogue’s latest issue has not only received a lot of national attention, but has also been recognized by international media outlets and even celebrities. After all, it’s not every day that one sees such a historical figure and tradition gracing the cover of a popular fashion magazine. 

CNN International, Firstpost, Yahoo News, NBC News, CTV News, and The Straits Times are just some of the foreign media brands that covered the release of Vogue Philippines’ groundbreaking story. 

In a recent Instagram post, American actress Halle Berry reposted the magazine’s front cover with the caption “Now THIS is real beauty.” Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy did the same, with the caption “At 106 years old this Filipino icon is finally getting her flowers! This is the best Vogue cover ever. Mahal kita APO WHANG-OD.” The famous Filipino beauty influencer and personality, Bretman Rock, commented “Epic!” on Vogue Philippines’ official Instagram post as well. 

More From Vogue’s Beauty Issue

Kim Jones figures into two fashion editorials. She photographs herself with husband Jericho Rosales in the first, painting a fiery picture of modern love against the backdrop of Joshua Tree National Park. In the second editorial, Kim collaborates with photographer Melissa Levy, a contributing editor for Vogue Australia, wearing pieces from Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Prada, and Gucci. 

Fashion designer Joey Samson reflects on the rich history and inspiration behind his 16-piece collection entitled “Ang Mga Pag-Ibig ni José Rizal” shot by internationally renowned photographer Sharif Hamza; Alex Quicho expounds on beauty brands in the metaverse and what it means to create your own image; Marian Pastor delves into tracing the roots of the Philippine national dress Barong and explains the origins of piña weaving. 

This month also marks the launch of Vogue Philippines Beauty Box, a regular selection of curated products. Launching on April 11, it will start with a summer collection of beauty and skincare products from brands such as Estée Lauder, Nars, Clinique, and Drunk Elephant.

Succeeding boxes will be released in the months of June, August, October, and December. The Vogue Philippines Beauty Box can be claimed with a full year subscription purchase of Vogue Philippines. Only 50 boxes will be released each month and will be subject to a first come, first served basis.

Visit vogue.ph and follow @voguephilippines on Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok and @vogueph on Twitter.

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