He trekked to a remote Philippines village to learn from one of the world's oldest tattoo artists

Follow Vancouver's Mayo Landicho as he makes a truly incredible journey to learn about the endangered cultural art of Batok tattooing.

Follow Vancouver's Mayo Landicho as he makes a truly incredible journey

"To find out that this cultural tradition is dying, I felt so devastated " — tattoo artist Mayo Landicho 5:14

After migrating to Vancouver from the Philippines, award-winning tattoo artist Mayo Landicho would have recurring dreams that urged him to reconnect to his cultural roots. One told him to go back to the Philippines and climb the northern mountains to meet an old woman who would guide him. He believed the dream came from his ancestors. So Landicho began reading and researching about Filipino tattoo design — and that's how he came across a picture of Apo Whang-Od.

Whang-Od may be the oldest tattoo artist in the world and the last master tattoo artist from the Kalinga tribe. She uses the "Batok" style — the materials are charcoal, water and the thorny end of a calamansi or pomelo tree branch that "taps" the pigment into skin. This style of tattoo dates back a thousand years and uses designs inspired by nature. It's also considered an endangered cultural art in the Philippines.

Mayo Landicho (right) with Apo Whang-Od. (CBC Arts)

In this video, watch as Landicho makes the journey to the Philippine mountains to find Whang-Od. When they meet, the elder artist tells him that their meeting was destined and gives her blessing to Landicho to continue the tattooing tradition. This is deeply meaningful because for a long time, the knowledge was passed on exclusively to Kalinga tribe members. While many non-Kalinga tattoo artists have studied the Batok style on their own, none have been acknowledged by Whang-Od. Landicho is the only person outside the tribe to receive her blessing, earning him the nickname "Adopted Son of Kalinga" — and making him the only Kalinga-approved tattoo artist in Canada. 

Keep up with Landicho's Birthmark Tattoos here. You can find Mayo Landicho at Vancouver Tattoo and Culture Show, April 20-22 and at Northern Ink Xposure in Toronto, June 8-10.

Watch Exhibitionists on Friday nights at 12:30am (1am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT) on CBC Television.

About the Author

Mangla Bansal and Meagan Oravec May

Mangla Bansal and Meagan Oravec May are the dynamic duo behind Tell Your Story Productions. They started the company with the objective to create empowering media and love doing videos regularly for CBC Arts. For more information, visit


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