The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) concluded in its investigation that Filipino traditional tattooist Apo Whang-Od was not aware that she would teach in a Nas Academy masterclass, an online learning platform.
“Apo Whang-Od did not consent or was made aware she would teach the Kalinga art of tattooing in Nas Academy,” the NCIP said in its findings.
The NCIP added that the 104-year-old mambabatok did not know about the existence of a contract to teach in the online academy founded by Arab Israeli vlogger Nas Daily.
“She did not affix her thumb mark in any contract for this account,” said the NCIP, which stated that a forensic study is ongoing to determine “an apparent disparity” regarding the authenticity of Whang-Od’s affixed thumb mark in the contract.
The NCIP also emphasized that the contract was “grossly onerous” on the part of Whang-Od, which also stated that the agreement must be governed by Singaporean law, as Nas Academy is based in that country.
Stella Palangdao, Whang-Od’s niece and one of those interviewed by NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region officers, said the provisions of the contract were not explained to them, but they were made to sign the agreement regarding filming, interviews, photography, and other related concerns.
“The contract states that the Nas Academy has exclusive ownership of any content that the show would produce including the likeness, image, voice, etc. of Apo Whang-Od and such ownership is in perpetuity, inclusive of the right (to) alteration and the right to assign and transfer the same without consent,” the agency said.
The NCIP stressed that Nas Academy’s move to commercialize access to the Kalinga art of tattooing will contribute to the demise of their tourism industry, which, it said, is culturally driven.
The agency reminded those who wish to conduct activities within the indigenous groups’ ancestral domain must notify concerned government authorities, get the consent of the community, and be culturally sensitive, especially in dealing with Whang-Od, one of the oldest traditional tattoo artists of Kalinga.
“The art of tattooing is a cultural expression and it is practiced by the ICCs/IPs of Kalinga. Teaching of said cultural manifestation or expression in an open platform accessible to millions of people would render it generic and thus it would lose its authenticity and cultural meaning,” the NCIP said.
In a statement made on Aug. 5, Nas Academy maintained it obtained Whang-Od’s consent.
The online platform took down the class following a backlash in social media. Grace Palicas, another relative of Whang-Od and a tattoo artist herself, even called the masterclass a “scam” in a social media post.
Reporting by Nadine Castro