13 National Living Treasures of the Philippines: Is Whang-od Next?

In September 2015, netizens lobbied for the declaration of Apo Whang-od as a National Artist of the Philippines for her role in preserving the dying art of cultural tattoo.

Eighty-eight-year-old Whang-od Oggay is considered as the last mambabatok (hand-tap tattoo artist) of her tribe. She hails from mountains of the Cordilleras, specifically in Buscalan in the municipality of Tinglayan in the Kalinga province.

The ancient technique called batok dates back a thousand years. The tattoo ink, made of charcoal and water, is tapped into the skin through a thorn end. Traditionally, it is a symbol of beauty for women and a symbol of strength for men, especially the headhunters of the Butbut Kalinga tribe. It was said that the number of tattoos on a man’s body would account for the heads he has taken or wars won.

The campaign with the hashtag #WangOdNationalArtist reached more than 11,000 shares. The Order of National Artists is “the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts; namely, Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts.”

Other cultural activists, however, proposed that the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GaMaBa) is more suited for the village elder. The National Living Treasures Award is conferred upon “a Filipino citizen or group of Filipino citizens engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino, whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generations in his/her community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence. The Award shall be given in each, but not limited to the following categories of traditional folk arts, viz.: folk architecture, maritime transport, weaving carving, performing arts, literature, graphic and plastic arts, ornament, textile or fiber art, pottery and other artistic expressions of traditional culture.”

If Apo Whang-Od will be declared the National Living Treasure, who is with her in the roster? Here are the 13 individuals recognized with the GaMaBa:

1) Ginaw Bilog
  • Poet
  • Hanunuo Mangyan
  • Panaytayan, Oriental Mindoro
  • 1993
  • Died in 2003

Ginaw Bilog helped preserved the Mangyan literary tradition by documenting the pieces of ambahan recorded not only on bamboo tubes but also on notebooks passed on to him. The ambahan is a poetic literary form composed of seven-syllables. It is usually sung.

 

2) Masino Intaray
  • Musician and Storyteller
  • Pala’wan
  • Brookes Point, Palawan
  • 1993
  • Died in 2013

Masino Intaray has mastered the traditions of his people—the Palawan, Batak, and Tagbanwa in the highlands of southern Palawan. He is skillful in basal (gong music ensemble), kulilal (lyrical poem expressing passionate love sang with the accompaniment of the kusyapi), and bagit (instrumental music depicting nature).

 

3) Samaon Sulaiman
  • Musician
  • Magindanao
  • Mama sa Pano, Maguindanao
  • 1993
  • Died in 2011

Samaon Sulaiman is a master in the use of the kulintang and kutyapi of the Maguindanaons. His extensive repertoire of dinaladay, linapu, minuna, and binalig has demonstrated not only his own skills but their culture.

 

4) Lang Dulay
  • Textile Weaver
  • T’boli
  • Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
  • 1998
  • Died in 2015

The T’bolis are known for their use of abaca fibers in textile weaving. Lang Dulay continued this tradition and preserved the culture of their community through patterns of crocodiles, butterflies, flowers, mountains, and streams and of Lake Sebu in her works.

5) Salinta Monon
  • Textile Weaver
  • Tagabawa Bagobo
  • Bansalan, Davao del Sur
  • 1998
  • Died in 2009

Salinta Monon started learning weaving traditional Bagobo textiles from her mother at the age of 12. Her family is among the remaining Bagobo weavers in the community.

 

6) Alonzo Saclag
  • Musician and Dancer
  • Kalinga
  • Lubugan, Kalinga
  • 2000

Alonzo Saclag has worked for the preservation of Kalinga culture. He lobbied that the abandoned Capitol Building be turned into a museum, that schools implement the practice of donning the Kalinga costume for important events, and that traditional Kalinga music should be broadcasted alongside contemporary music in the local radio station. He also formed the Kalinga Budong Dance Troupe to guarantee that his knowledge in the performing arts is passed on to others.

 

7) Federico Caballero
  • Epic Chanter
  • Sulod-Bukidnon
  • Calinog, Iloilo
  • 2000

Federico Caballero, a Panay-Bukidnon from the mountains of Central Panay, has worked hard to document the oral literature of his people. He has preserved the  epics that use a language that has long been dead by working together with scholars, artists, and advocates of culture.

 

8) Uwang Ahadas
  • Musician
  • Yakan
  • Lamitan, Basilan
  • 2000

Uwang Ahadas has made it his life’s work to preserve and promote Yakan culture through the traditional music and instruments of his tribe. He has mastered tha gabbang, the agung, the kwintangan kayu, and others.

9) Darhata Sawabi
  • Textile Weaver
  • Tausug
  • Parang, Sulu
  • 2004
  • Died in 2005

Darhata Sawabi is one of the master weavers in the island of Jolo. Like most women in their tribe, she has learned the art of weaving the pis syabit, the traditional cloth tapestry worn as head cover by the Tausug of Jolo, from her mother.

 

10) Eduardo Mutuc
  • Metalsmith
  • Kapampangan
  • Apalit, Pampanga
  • 2004

Eduardo Mutuc dedicated his life in sculpting retablos, mirrors, altars, and carosas from silver, bronze, and wood. Some of his works can exceed 40 feet while the others feature smaller size and delicate craftmanship.

 

11) Haja Amina Appi
  • Mat Weaver
  • Sama
  • Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi
  • 2004

Haja Amina Appi is recognized as the master mat weaver among the Sama indigenous community of Ungos Matata. Her mats are known for their complex geometric patters, proportion, and unique combination of colors.

12) Teofilo Garcia
  • Casque (tabungaw) Maker
  • Ilocano
  • San Quintin, Abra
  • 2012

Teofilo learned how to make gourd casques and weave baskets from his grandfather at the age of 16. Since he learned the craft, he never stopped experimenting with other designs. He previously used nito (vine trimmings) to decorate the headgear and then used with other materials such as bamboo after his supplier from Cagayan passed away.

 

13) Magdalena Gamayo
  • Textile (inabel) Weaver
  • Ilocano
  • Pinili, Ilocos Norte
  • 2012

In her profile, it was reported that Magdalena has taught herself the traditional patterns of binakol, inuritan (geometric design), kusikos (spiral forms similar to oranges), and sinan-sabong (flowers). She has learned the art of weaving from her aunt and started harnessing her innate skills at the age of 16. She may be in her late 80s but she still manages to arrange threads on the loom, which is the hardest task in textile weaving.

 

Should Apo Whang-Od be the 14th on this list? We can only wait. Meanwhile, let’s all do our part in preserving the heritage of our beloved country.