When Whang-Od was twenty-five, the man she loved was killed in a logging accident. She had never married, nor did she have children. After the death of her boyfriend, she dedicated herself to her role as mamababatok, or tattoo artist. Whang-Od is now 101, and in the Cordillera mountains of the northern Philippines, where she lives among the Kalinga people, she is a legend.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Manila-based photographer Jake Verzosa traveled to the Cordillera mountains and photographed Kalinga women whose bodies bear these tattoos, known as batok. Whang-Od is the last mamabatok, and The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga, a collection of Verzosa’s photographs, documents her work. Alternately described as “dead,” “dying,” “extinct,” or “endangered,” batok is a practice that lives on in Versoza’s images, and also in the Kalinga, who are, Verzosa emphasizes, still here. “When I pass on,” says Whang-Od, “I will bring my tattoos with me in the afterlife. Everything else is left behind.”