Charcoal and Needles

  • Sep
  • 26

What’s In Your Bag:
Charcoal & Needles

This ancient art dates back thousands of years, and is traditionally believed as something only to be performed by someone of a specific bloodline. Many have hailed 97-year-old Whang-Od as the last surviving mambabatok from the province of Kalinga, but a lesser known fact is that many still carry the lineage for ink in their veins. Den Wigan is one of them.

Den takes residence at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo every so often, performing the traditional method of tattooing, known as mambabatok, for responsible for having tattooed Whang-Od. Den comes from a community near Whang-Od, traveling long hours for every trip down to Pinto. He doesn’t have traditional tattoos of his own, but where he comes from he claims the art of mambabatok continues to live on, even if the members have to teach themselves.

Photographs by Mike Dee


(1) BACKPACK – This pack is special because it was woven out of rattan. It was made in Kalinga

2) BASKET – This is where I keep my materials. I got it here, actually, in Pinto Art Gallery, but it was also originally made in Kalinga. [Pinto Art Gallery sells products from the artists of Kalinga.]

(3) KNIFE #1 – I keep two knives—one for sharpening, and one for making holes for the needles. I bought this one from Ilocos Norte.

(4) KNIFE #2 – My father made this knife. He made the case with rattan. He gave it to me to use. This is the one I use to poke holes in the sticks.

(5) These wooden sticks don’t have a specific name, but back home we call the wood “lunu”. It’s more common in Kalinga. This is where I place the needles. I always carry a lot because I use one per client. I never use it on more than one person. After the tattoo, I throw it away.

(6) PAMUKPOK – I made this and painted it with the same charcoal I use for ink.

(7) BOWL – This is really just the shell of a coconut, and the small stick inside is made of bamboo. It’s very thin so I use it when I need to outline something.

(8) PINE NEEDLES – Some people use needles from the plant of a pomelo, but I use the needles from calamansi because that’s what we use in my community.

(9) CHARCOAL – We get our charcoal from pine trees—the ink comes out darker that way. I only need to take a little bit of this and mix it with water.

(10) INABEL – This is a handwoven cloth from Ilocos Norte.

As featured in
GRID Volume 01

What’s In Your Bag?


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