DOT calls for cultural sensitivity

ON THE heels of a debate on the seeming exploitation of Maria “Whang od” Oggay during the Manila FAME, a call for cultural sensitivity has been made.

Department of Tourism (DOT)-Cordillera director Marie Venus Tan said sensitivity must be practiced when dealing with indigenous peoples as well as culture bearers.

“My take is that, whatever the reasons behind, unwittingly they have crossed the delicate line between commercial exhibition and responsible cultural display. Apo Whang Od is a living cultural icon and must be delicately treated accordingly,”

Tan said a more sensitive way of presenting Whang Od should have been done so as not to spark suspicions of exploitation.

Whang od in photos was accompanied by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Kalinga head Natty Sugguiyao as well as National Commission of Culture and Arts representatives.

In the region, traditional tattoo’s have been a hit primarily because Whang –Od who lives in Buscalan town in Kalinga and whose ink is composed of a mixture of charcoal and water that will be hand tapped into the skin through a thorn end of a lemon or pomelo tree. She is also rumored to be the oldest mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist), a claim which cannot be proven with the lack of a birth certificates.

University of the Philippines Baguio, social anthropologist Dr. Analyn Salvador-Amores, who has made in depth research on tattoo art and Whang od in Buscalan said: “To the organizers of the event, it is a most admirable act to bring in the centenarian Apo Whang-ud on board with all the resources and logistics all set, but I hope that you planned and curated the show well! With the tattoo practitioners on cordon, you made them look like 'public performers for a fee' (“tattoo for a fee”) which could have been more interactive, and not exclusive.”

“We could honor Apo Whang Od and her craft in a most respectable way and for a rare occasion such as this, a fitting tribute should be perfectly fine, more so, to listen to Apo Whang Od’s voice, her thoughts and her stories with the proper translation from her Butbut language to Filipino or English (most of the attendees have an English twang!). But having to tattoo from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the event and have a 'piece' of her is way too much, there should be a limit for this tattoo demonstrations,” Amores said.

Manila FAME organizers, the Center for International Trade and Expositions and Missions (CITEM) has been accused of commodifying and exploiting the rumored centenarian of Kalinga by exposing her like a circus spectacle during the event.

However, organizers have said all preparations and arrangements as well as fees to be given Whang Od were accomplished as well as overseeing her security, health and well being.

Whang Od has been nominated to the NCCA’s "Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan" known as the National Living Treasures Award.
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