Sunday, August 8, 2021

How Accurate Is Nas Daily's Apo Whang-od Academy?

This is my take on the Nas Daily and Whang-od controversy. I'm not going to comment on the allegations being thrown between the parties involved because to be honest, they have conflicting statements. At this time, I'm not sure who to believe. That said, until things become clearer, I'm going to reserve my judgement on whatever is going on between them.

My comments will be on the course itself. The masterclass that Whang-od was supposed to teach on Nas Academy was called "Learn the Ancient Art of Tattooing" and it had a price tag of 750 pesos. I browsed the contents of the overview page for the course before it was eventually deleted from the Nas Academy website.

The page had inaccuracies that needed to be addressed.

1. They referred to Whang-od as the "last Kalinga tattoo artist in the world". That's not true. The reality is that there are several young tattoo artists in her village who have learned the art. They use the same tools, methods, and designs. These young artists are learning the art from Whang-od in the same way that Whang-od learned the art from her elders when she was young.

To say that Whang-od is the last Kalinga tattoo artist is to say that these young artists under her are not Kalinga tattoo artists. They are Kalinga tattoo artists as much as Whang-od is a Kalinga tattoo artist.

2. In a video about Whang-od, Nas Daily said that Whang-od practices her art in a village in "the jungles of the Philippines". I've been to Buscalan a number of times and I don't think the place constitutes a jungle. A jungle is supposed to be a land covered with dense forest and tangled vegetation. I don't think this applies to Buscalan. This is an example of sensationalism.

3. The course makes the claim that Whang-od was the "first female tattoo artist in her tribe". This is an often repeated piece of information that really needs some fact-checking. Culture-wise, it's a significant piece of information that begs qualification.

It would have been a good idea for the Nas Academy team to consult with people knowledgeable on Kalinga tattooing.

I'm not sure if they consulted with Analyn Salvador Amores, a scholar and academic who first comes to mind when it comes to research on Kalinga tattoos. Anyone creating any form of media content on Kalinga tattoos should probably consult with her to avoid presenting unverified information about the art form and its practitioners. She studied the art form and its history. She even wrote a book about it. [Tapping Ink, Tattooing Identities; University of the Philippines Press]

In any case, let's hope all the parties involved resolve their issues and come out of this controversy with better-informed perspectives. It seems like the NCIP is now also aware of the issue so it will be interesting to see how they are going to wrestle with it.

On the issues of cultural appropriation, ethics, and baiting, these need separate posts. We'll try to address them in other times.