Toronto tattoo artist hopes Black Panther pieces instil pride, dispel myths

TORONTO—When Black Panther hit theatres, Toronto tattoo artist D.C Nchama saw an opportunity to fill a void, instil a sense of pride and dispel myths in his craft.

Inspired by the film’s Afrofuturism esthetic and African cultural motifs, he designed a series of Black Panther tattoos and recently inked one them, of a Dora Milaje-style warrior, on a woman’s inner forearm.

He hopes such work will bring a much-needed African cultural identity to the tattoo world, and stamp out the stigma that darker skin tones are difficult to ink.

“What I’m hoping is that once the images start getting out there, that there will be more of an incentive and more of an empowering unification thing,” says the Funky Ink Tattoo Gallery artist, whose father is a Zulu, of the Ngoni tribes, from Malawi in Africa.

Toronto tattoo artist Thomarya (Tee) Fergus says a growing emergence of Black Panther tattoos is part of an awakening when it comes to tattooing darker skin.

“In the past two years that I’ve been doing it, I’ve discovered a lot of POCs (people of colour) that are tattooing amazing pieces and colours,” she says, noting social media platforms are helping show what’s possible.

“Every day I’m pretty much sending someone to someone’s page on Instagram that I know who does colour work on POCs, just trying to let them know that it exists. It’s been a pretty big stereotype for a long time.”

Elisheba Israel Mrozik, artist/owner of One Drop Ink Tattoo in Nashville, has some Black Panther pieces on the company Instagram account (@onedropink).

She says she’s noticed more African-American clients asking for unique cultural designs.

Nchama, Fergus and Mrozik all say they’ve had first-hand experiences with the stigma against tattooing on darker skin.

Nchama recalls one artist in a parlour telling him: “I’m a tiny bit racist in the sense that I feel that black skin doesn’t work well for tattooing.’”

Fergus says she’s heard it ever since she got into the craft: “I’m always like, ‘That’s a lie.’ I try to be a walking testament to that.”

And Mrozik, who was on Season 8 of the U.S. reality series Ink Master, says the stigma is what prompted her to get into tattooing in the first place.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., many of her black friends had “pretty bad” tattoos, largely because of discrimination.

“A lot of times, as soon as you walk in the door, they either ignore you, they’re really rude, or if you give them the idea, they’ll price it as extremely more expensive because they don’t want to do it on you,” says Mrozik, noting many end up going to non-licensed tattoo artists known as “scratchers” who work out of their homes.

She didn’t realize it was possible to do painting-style tattoos on darker skin until she saw one online and decided to apply her art degree to the craft.

She opened up her own parlour, because she was “dismissed every time” she walked into other shops.

“If the industry would open up their doors to letting more African-American artists into the legitimate industry then they wouldn’t be scratching,” Mrozik says.

“They could learn more and be able to get better art to us and on our skin.”

As the artists tell it, many of their peers think darker skin is too tough to tattoo and doesn’t show contrast and colour.

And they fear that pieces on darker skin won’t be good for their portfolio because the tones and contrast won’t show up as well.

That can all be worked around by knowledge, they say: of how to properly design the tattoos with the right colour palette, which materials and equipment to use, how to work the machine to get the right strokes, how to apply lines to get the right effect, and how to do visual contrast.

“If you can balance out blacks and negative space, you can make a successful composition,” says Nchama.

“I just think they had a very limited view of what was possible. So the incentive to make that (tattoo) flash was to break down those barriers while giving some sort of identity to our culture. Any skintone is workable.”


Toronto tattoo artist hopes Black Panther pieces instil pride, dispel myths

‘Oldest tattoo’ found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies

  • 1 March 2018
Male Mummy
Image captionThis young man was one of the first people in the world to have a figurative tattoo. It appears as a dark smudge at the top of his arm.

Researchers have discovered the oldest figurative tattoos in the world on two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.

The illustrations are of a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on the upper-arm of a male mummy, and S-shaped motifs on the upper-arm and shoulder of a female.

The discovery pushes back evidence for the practice in Africa by 1,000 years.

Details of the tattoos have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Image captionThe first tattoo: A wild bull with long tail and elaborate horns; and above it, a Barbary sheep with curving horns and a humped shoulder

Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum’s Curator of Physical Anthropology, said that the discovery had “transformed” our understanding of how people lived in this era.

“Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium,” he told BBC News.

The male mummy was found about 100 years ago.

Previous CT scans showed that he was between 18 and 21 years old when he died from a stab wound to the back.

Dark smudges on his arm were thought to be unimportant until infrared scans revealed that they were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals. One is interpreted to be a wild bull with a long tail and elaborate horns; the other appears to be a Barbary sheep with curving horns and a humped shoulder.

Image captionThe female mummy has tattoos which may denote status, bravery and magical knowledge

The female mummy has four small S-shaped motifs running down her right shoulder.

She also has a motif that is thought to represent batons used in ritual dance.

The designs are under the skin and the pigment is probably soot.

Previously, archaeologists had thought only women wore tattoos in the ancient past, but the discovery of tattoos on the male mummy now shows body modification concerned both sexes.

The researchers believe that the tattoos would have denoted status, bravery and magical knowledge.

The mummies were found in Gebelein in the southern part of Upper Egypt, around 40km south of modern-day Luxor.

The individuals were buried in shallow graves without any special preparation, but their bodies were naturally preserved by the heat, salinity and aridity of the desert.

Radiocarbon results indicate that they lived between 3351 and 3017 BC, shortly before the region was unified by the first pharaoh at around 3100 BC.

The oldest example of tattooing is found on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi who is thought to have lived between 3370 and 3100 BC. But his tattoos are vertical or horizontal lines, rather than figurative.

four 'S'sImage copyright TRUSTEES OF THE BRITSH MUSEUM
Image captionFour S-shaped motifs run down the woman’s right shoulder
‘Oldest tattoo’ found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies

Women Reveal The Tattoos They Want You to Get



We surveyed the women of GQ (experts in male style) to find out what they’d like to see permanently emblazoned on your bodies

The women of GQ have spoken. We now have conclusive evidence suggesting the hottest body parts for men to get tattooed, as well as the types of tattoos most appealing to the opposite sex. We realize you aren’t so shallow as to get a tattoo just to attract babes (of course your Tibetan lion tat has major spiritual significance). But we are here to say that maybe, just maybe, knowing what women think is hot could help inform your next body art decision.

First time under the inky needle? Consider this survey—conducted under the most scientific circumstances—a beginner’s guide, or perhaps some food for thought. If you’ve ever asked a woman her opinion on a pair of pants, to be worn for a single occasion, then you should probably do the same before getting branded with something you can never take off (or at least without lots of money and an painful removal process).

Behold, the results. Please try to use the power of this information for good, not evil.

Hottest Place to Be Inked (From Best to Worst):

  1. Forearm Some ladies specified the underside.
  2. Arms (full sleeve) Really hot, but also a major commitment.Picture1
  3. Back With one caveat: “Just not wings. Never get wings on your back. You are not an angel or a bird.”
  4. Underside of Wrist For the shy, younger brother of forearm-tattooed man. The hotness is less in-your-face, but we can’t believe it took us this long to notice…
  5. Chest Could be hot, just keep it up top. Harry Styles’s butterfly is verging on belly territory
  6. Knuckles This is a bit scary, not so sexy. But its ranking suggests there’s room for exception.
  7. Ankle A little bit ’90s.
  8. Back of Calf  Is it a portrait of Fox Mulder? Sure, go ahead then. (Sarcasm.)
  9. Legs (full) Women seem to like your legs bare—possibly because of the wincing that occurs when we imagine the tat artist drudging through all that leg hair.
  10. Belly Don’t ever do this.

Hottest Tattoos to Get (From Best to Worst):

    1. Foreign Language (That He Speaks) As the author of this survey and a woman, this profoundly surprises me. But science is science.
    2. Fierce Animal Lions and tigers and bears…are HOT!
    3. Birds Like a giant bald eagle across my belly?!Hottest Tattoos to Get (From Best to Worst):
    4. No, not like that.
    1. Anchor Ahoy, still kinda hot.
    2. Skull Yes, this probably also means she’d prefer you got rid of the Slayer’stank top you bought at that summer show in college
    3. Flowers How about just buying the real kind for her instead?
    4. Sexy Lady Unless she’s on your forearm and you can make her dance.
    5. Dagger RIP dagger tattoo.
    6. Mom Heart Your mom is the least sexy thing to a single woman. Remember that.
Women Reveal The Tattoos They Want You to Get

Transgender son and his mother on the rebirth and grief of his coming out

As Pride Month begins, a mother and her transgender son recount his transition and their relationship in alternating chapters of their collaborative memoir, “At the Broken Places.”


Donald Collins and his mother Mary recount his transition and their relationship in a collaborative memoir, “At the Broken Places.”   (SUPPLIED PHOTO)


Sun., June 4, 2017

I have a tattoo of a robin on my left bicep, my first. Tattoos became a part of my ever evolving vision of self sometime during my junior year of college. When I was working a paid internship in New York and had extra cash on hand, I found a reputable artist and started decorating.

I prepare to tell my mother about this tattoo as we depart from a local coffee shop. So many long, difficult talks between my mother and me have taken place in a car. I remember her visiting me at boarding school, taking me for a much-needed lunch and a drive. We would park somewhere and talk. She would ask questions with the kind of frustration that comes from knowing that someone is unhappy and not knowing how to help that person. I would desperately try to impart any understanding of the unhappiness I had no name for. Then, with something short of relief, she would return home and I, to school.

Today we are both in good spirits, and I am hesitant to stir up any trouble. But the opportune moment lingers and luckily, I’ve paved my own way. These hundred difficult talks of ours, some harder than others, make my admission near casual.

“I got a tattoo in New York,” I tell her. “I thought about it for a long time, and I’m very happy with it. I just didn’t want to surprise you.”

I show her the tattoo, and she is surprised, but polite.

“It’s very well done,” she remarks.

After getting the tattoo, I found out the robin is the state bird of Connecticut — site of my coming out, my boarding school years, and my family’s current home. I chose it because robins are, mythically, the bird of springtime, of new beginnings.

Being trans, or my way of being trans, involves a lot of starting over. I filled out hours of paperwork to create this person. I celebrate new birthdays and anniversaries for myself. I have a new name, a new body, and a new will to enjoy life. Opportunities and friendships ripen around the arrival of this new person. He is welcome in this long-hibernating world of his own making.

I wear my robin like a badge and bring my own spring with me.


I had just started boarding high school at Loomis Chaffee when I intuited a severe misalignment between my physical and mental gender orientation.

My first two years of Loomis went by in a melancholy blur. I enjoyed my coursework, met a few close friends, but otherwise deteriorated quickly, slipping into intense periods of depression.

In eighth grade I had participated in hyperfeminine presentation, complete with long hair, rings, scarves, and tailored clothing, believing it would help me fit in more and banking that I would adapt to it with time.

My “girl” clothes caused me great discomfort, but everything was easier when I wore them. People didn’t correct my behaviour or appearance. I didn’t stand out. But by the end of my freshman year, I packed everything away, feeling suffocated. Within months of being at Loomis, I cut my hair sloppily short and took to wearing oversized thrift-store men’s clothing. I became less and less recognizable to my mother. My dad wondered if I was gay. Friends struggled to interpret my behaviour. I was talkative, cheerful — then suddenly morose, beyond reach.

I had weekly sessions with Kendall, an agreeable, grounded therapist, for over two years. She was the first adult I expressed my gender dissonance to.

“Sometimes,” I told her, “I feel like my life would have been so much better if I were a boy.”

After my “coming out” session with Kendall I took the time to lie quietly in my room and explore the shocking (at the time) words I had spoken.

During our next appointment I got specific: “I think I’m transgender.”

On a winter weekend home from school my senior year, I very emotionally told my mother these exact words in our kitchen. I noticed a blank expression in her eyes. I should have known in that moment that the word did not make contact with her. She didn’t understand. She reassured me that things were going to be OK and thanked me for telling her. Emboldened by this response, I began to elaborate on my plans (whoops!). I was changing my name and pronouns at school and would begin living “as a man” full time immediately. Then I saw the word connect, and the mood changed.

What?” she said, incredulous.

By the end of the evening we were both exhausted from crying and arguing.

She asked me not to come out at school, to put it off, to give us some time to think all this through. I’ve never been one to disobey my mom or my family, but her request was directly at odds with my sense of well-being.

“Don’t do this,” my mother said.

I came out at the Christmas party of my (almost) all-girls dorm a week later.

“We have a short announcement before the party ends,” my dorm parent Mrs. A. shouted into the giggling crowd. Everyone quieted, and she gestured for me to speak.

“I have something important I want to tell you,” I said to the room of attentive girls, standing amid streamers and tables of cupcakes.

“I identify as transgender,” I continued slowly. “I feel like a boy, even though I was born a girl. Everyone here knows me as ‘J.,’ but I would prefer to go by the name ‘Donnie’ and male pronouns.”

The girls hugged me, supported me, and respected me. They corrected their peers, checked in on me, remained some of my closest friends in the years to come.

As much as the support of Palmer Dormitory meant to me, it was not the same as the support of a parent.

My college counsellor, Beatrice, called my mom at home with the answer to a simple admissions question. She used the name “Donnie” when referring to me. This is how my mother learned I had come out at school. And she didn’t even like Beatrice to begin with.

“I had to find out from that … woman!” she hissed.

I wanted to remind my mom that she had already found out from me. I had told her first, and she could have been a part of this process.

My mom needed more time, and I had no more time left to give.

Our late-night weekend living room conversations only served to put our views into sharper contrast: me, certain I needed legal and physical procedures to confirm my gender; she, distraught, convinced I was ruining my life. Loomis, unsure of how to manage its first out trans student, reacted in earnest accommodation.

Loomis, the one-time source of all my stress and exhaustion, was now my haven. My mom, my truest confidant and advocate, was now part opposition, part victim. I was finally accomplishing everything she had hoped for me — genuine optimism for myself, interesting classwork, a thriving social life — but it all came at the expense of her “daughter,” the one price she was not willing to pay.

When I graduated Loomis, the purgatorial haze remained.

I had been granted “permission” to graduate in the masculine style, khakis and a blue blazer. Students convened on the quadrangle where the genders were split into their two lines and herded onto bleachers. Our delirious, pomaded heads smiled for the camera and then filed through the main academic hall.

In a yard facing the picturesque entrance road, the senior class found the chairs we would call home for the next four hours. I brimmed with accomplishment and something else … disappointment?

After six months as “Donnie,” I would be graduating under my birth name, “J.”

My family had financed my education in conjunction with academic scholarships, and this was their official request. Actually, I don’t fully know what their request was. Maybe my mother’s nostalgic wish or her last bid to have “J.” leave Loomis “alive.” It stung and, ultimately, was a shoddy compromise.

My part of the roll call only lasted a few seconds. I stepped on stage to the cheers of my classmates. Then with a cloudless sky above, the class of 2011 tossed their proverbial caps in the air.

I remember my family, my mother, eyes filled with pride for the symbolic occasion.

The child graduates high school.

I was going away, further away from them. I was leaving Loomis, and in a stranger, truer sense, I was leaving my family.

Privately, later that day, someone from the registrar’s office handed me another diploma, one bearing my chosen name. It felt like contraband.

If I seem callous or cold-hearted toward my mom, know that sometimes I am. When the people we love hurt us, often these are the only behaviours we find strength in. I continued to “live my truth,” knowing that my mother was grieving and in pain because I needed to survive.

Going into college, I couldn’t cope with my mom’s attachment to the very things I hated most about myself. Just as I needed to feel some space to change what wasn’t working for me, I felt more trapped by her devotion to J., her only child, her only daughter.

  1. is both real and unreal; she existed, she is me, and yet she is not who I am. To look through our house, one would think I have a sister. For a while my mother continued to display photos of me before I was my “authentic self.”

For months, my mother and I didn’t speak, and for many more, we continued to clash over increasingly high stakes.

Meanwhile during the four years after Loomis, I met wonderful people in Boston and New York, called them friends and family. I felt hopeless, undertook exhausting projects, sought help, and practised caring for my mind and body in new ways.

Amid everything, I wondered when, and if, my mom and I would have our own spring. I wondered if we could begin again.

‘I am grieving the loss of my daughter, and that does not mean I do not love my trans son’

Mary Collins

“I am transgender,” my teenaged daughter, J., says, her green eyes squinting with anxiety.

“Trans?” I ask. “What’s that?”

I am still thinking about mundane things, like the dirty dishes on the counter. We sit at my favourite place in the house, the round kitchen table by a window with lacy curtains, where I drink tea and read my newspaper every morning.

“Trans, Mom. I am a man trapped in a woman’s body.”

The summer day’s simmering breath coming through the screen suddenly feels like a panting animal.


My first fully modern loss.

It does not feel the same as when my father died when I was age 14.

It does not feel the same as when the love of my life left me when I was in my 20s.

In that moment at the kitchen table, I experienced a loss only made possible by our current culture, which allows — even empowers — a teenager to take steroids and have “top surgery” (trans speak for a double mastectomy) all before age 20 so his gender can match his person.

When J. legally changed her name to Donald and insisted we use male pronouns to refer to him, I resisted for a short time, but eventually gave up on “she,” “her,” and the entire idea that I have a daughter at all.

But when I said I thought Donald was moving too fast with his physical transition, the counsellors, school advisers, and medical professionals told me I must face the inevitable.

When I said I was sad about the unique obstacles my child will have to deal with in the larger world as an adult, they told me to tamp down my homophobia and trans bias. Seek counselling to overcome your prejudices, they advised.

I am not ashamed or biased, I told them.

I am grieving the loss of my daughter, and that does not mean I do not love my trans son.

Modern loss. Modern grief.

None of them grasped any of it, so I share a story with one of the school advisers.

When the school had a mother-daughter tea for Mother’s Day, Donald and I did not go, and skipped over to a nondescript Dunkin’ Donuts in a strip mall instead. As we finished our iced coffees, both milky-white with extra cream, I noticed two guys with heavily tattooed arms sitting two tables away listening as we chatted about Cher’s trans son, Chaz, who had been in the news a lot.

The men’s shoulders seemed tight, their lips closed.

I eyed the pickup truck outside.

I stared at the ice cubes in my cheap plastic cup.

I told Donald we needed to leave.

He thought it was because I’d finished my drink.

In that moment I did not feel shame, I tell the adviser, just fear.

I take no issue with any individual’s right to affirm and assert his or her identity.

But I know that outside the super-accommodating world of my child’s liberal school, approximately 40 per cent of Americans still disapprove of homosexuality. Imagine how they must perceive someone who is transgender? Even within the LGBTQ community, the T falls toward the end of the continuum.

In that moment, I explain to the adviser, I understood my daughter would never return. Her person remains, but my trans son faces a day-to-day life I never imagined for my child. As I drove Donald back to school, my fear transformed into something else, something that now follows me through my days, something I can only describe as grief.

I know from reading books and articles about parents with children who do not fall within “normal” parameters, in particular Andrew Solomon’s book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, that millions of families struggle with this unusual form of grieving. Two tall parents might have a dwarf; a scholar might have an autistic boy who does not speak. Counselors focus on “acceptance” of the situation rather than processing the grief first, which, unfortunately, falls right in line with the American Psychiatric Association’s recent decision to identify depression associated with deep grief as mental illness, not a natural reaction that an individual should be encouraged to feel and move through without guilt or shame. Leave it to American culture to take a fundamental human emotion and classify it as a condition.

I reflected on how I handled my father’s death to help me cope with my situation with my trans son, but that only brought back memories of how poorly American culture handles even this most timeless of losses.

All I remember of the moment when I first heard my father had died were the white walls of my small bedroom, my mother by my bedside shaking from the stress of what she had to tell me, the sense of dislocation I felt when she spoke the news. I remember wrapping the cotton bedspread around my shoulders and leaning into the softness and warmth. I don’t remember leaving the room or going downstairs or how I told my friends. I now associate white, not black, with death, and have purple, lilac, deep blue, yellow, and other colours on the walls in my house, but not white.

The general world treated my loss as sad, unfortunate, but nothing so out of the ordinary that I wasn’t expected to return to school, to sports teams, to my student work job at my high school within the week. We had a church service, a burial; I missed a few days of classes and that was it.

Only now, as an adult researching grief and loss, have I discovered that just 4 per cent of children in the United States under age 15 lose a parent. When I asked my sister to guess the percentage (and she’s a health-care professional), she said about 25 per cent. In places and time periods in which such losses were more commonplace, the larger society was better equipped to recognize grief and loss as an ongoing experience — not something with concrete stages that you go through in lockstep, but something you carry with you, often always.

In American culture we do not celebrate a Day of the Dead, as they do in Mexico; we don’t have secular altars in public spaces to honour those who have passed, as in many Eastern cultures. Here grief is more of an individual responsibility, a framework that encourages isolation and often morphs into debilitating depression. The fact that modern American life continues to add ever more complex types of loss just exacerbates the problem.

My emotional journey with Donald seems to more closely mirror more nebulous losses, such as moving away from someone I will never see again. The average American moves 12 times in his or her lifetime, and one in five children eventually move far away from their families, a geographic mortality rate, for want of a better term, that’s startling when you consider that for most of human history, the majority of people rarely travelled more than 80 kilometres from where they grew up.

Similarly, a single woman like me with a decent job can have dozens of romantic relationships over a lifetime, a tremendous freedom that comes with a price: you become intimate with a much larger pool of people, but, conversely, you also experience the loss of that intimacy anew each time it doesn’t work out.

I call that “goodbye grief.”

When Donald came home after the top surgery, he felt freed of the physical binds he had used to compress his breasts for years. He could wear a light T-shirt with nothing on underneath on a hot July day. His shoulders sprang back when he walked now, instead of slouched. He held his head differently, more confidently, and looked outward instead of downward. He felt more at home in his own body.

I looked at his now slim torso and saw a fawn before me — all legs, reddish-brown coat, and so vulnerable I wanted to hire a bodyguard for him.

Donald’s radical adjustment has made it easier for me to remember to use male pronouns when referring to him; I only slip up when I am out of Donald’s presence and around strangers who ask about my family. At one point, while Donald was still in college, a contractor building a porch for me wanted to know if I had children. Without thinking, I said, yes, I have a daughter who is a sophomore in college.

Two weeks later Donald came home, and as we pulled into the driveway the contractor stuck his head in my car to say hello.

“Oh,” he remarked later, “so you have two kids.”


I had no vocabulary to explain the complexity of my situation in such quick passing conversations.

Instead, despite taking great pride in being an honest and direct person, I say little and am left with what I wryly call my own grief geography, territory that no one else can navigate or fully know.

Adapted excerpt from At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces by Mary Collins and Donald Collins (Beacon Press, 2017). 

Transgender son and his mother on the rebirth and grief of his coming out

Village finds fame with its tattoo queen


BUSCALAN, PHILIPPINES— She wakes up every morning at dawn and mixes an ink out of pine soot and water. She threads a thorn from a bitter citrus tree into a reed, crouches on a three-inch-high stool and, folded up like a cricket, hand-taps tattoos onto the backs, wrists and chests of people who come to see her from as far away as Mexico and Slovenia.


Maria Fang-od Oggay belongs to the last generation of her ethnic group bearing a full set of traditional tattoos and is one of the few who remember how they are done.

The woman, Maria Fang-od Oggay, will finish 14 tattoos before lunch — not a bad day’s work for someone said to be 100 years old. Moreover, she has singlehandedly kept an ancient tradition alive, and in the process, transformed this remote mountaintop village into a mecca for tourists seeking adventure and a piece of history under their skin.

Buscalan, population 742, is a mile hike from the nearest dirt road through foggy forest and centuriesold rice terraces. The stilted huts are made of wood and thatch or galvanized tin and concrete blocks. There is no mobile phone service and little electricity. Black pigs and chickens roam the narrow paths of stone and dirt.

Fang-od, also spelled Whang-od, is a ritual tattoo artist of the Butbut tribe of the Kalinga ethnic group in the northern Philippines.

When the Spanish first arrived in 1521, tattooing was widespread across the islands that would eventually make up the Philippines. Over the centuries, discouraged by colonial powers and Catholic teachings, the tradition faded.

The Kalinga, in the inaccessible mountains known as the Cordillera Central, fiercely guarded their villages against outsiders and held on to their customs. But by the middle of the 20th century, even their tattooing practices were slipping into history.

Fang-od belongs to the last generation bearing a full set of traditional tattoos and is one of the few who remember how they were done.

She was set to die in obscurity until an American anthropologist, Dr. Lars Krutak, included her in his 2009 documentary series, Tattoo Hunter. Today, she is at the centre of a rush of visitors hoping to get a tattoo from a woman who herself seems like an artifact from another time.

Tourism in Kalinga Province, where Buscalan is the most popular destination, has increased more than fivefold, from about 30,000 in 2010 to almost 170,000 in 2016.

Most come to see Fang-od. They take a number and hope to be tattooed by her, while others settle for a tattoo from one of her grandnieces, who have begun to carry on the tradition.

“I was surprised,” Fang-od said of the many people who have come to see her.

She says she is still waiting for a visit from her celebrity crush, the Filipino actor Coco Martin. For now, she contents herself with a life-size cardboard cut-out.

Fang-od is thin and hunched, but strong from a life of farming Buscalan’s terraced slopes. She is toothless but wears bright dentures, and is quick to laugh and tell jokes. Her thick grey hair is twisted around a headband of ochre stone beads, and her wrists are stacked with bracelets.

Along her collarbone, and from her shoulder blades to the backs of her hands, she is tattooed in faded geometric patterns of snakeskin, python and caterpillars, Kalinga symbols of protection, strength and guidance. Small tattoos are settled into the creases of her chin and forehead. She never married, but barely legible on her wrists are the names of some of her boyfriends — Bananao, Basongit, Francis.

She loved them all the same, she said, and tells tourists that the lotion she smears on a fresh tattoo is made from the semen of her 17 boyfriends. It’s coconut oil, but the joke gives her a good laugh.

Fang-od was born before the tribe kept birth records, but her family estimates she turned 100 in February.

A century ago, tattoos for Kalinga women were decorative. They represented beauty and status.

Kalinga men earned tattoos through acts of bravery, notably through ritual headhunting.

In the 1930s, the national government, then administered by the United States, began suppressing trophy tattoos, and women started to cover their upper bodies. Headhunting went from being an act of valour to a crime.

But changing values are again changing Buscalan.

On a recent Sunday, Conradine KingGonzalo, 27, a businesswoman, travelled 13 hours by bus from Manila to get a tattoo from Fang-od.

“She’s a legend,” King-Gonzalo said. This was her second trip. The first time, Fang-od was away, so she went to one of her grandnieces. “I won’t stop until I get a tattoo from Apo,” she said, referring to Fang-od using the Kalinga word for grandmother.

Paulo Vega, 29, an Australian tattoo artist from Prague, saw his trip as a pilgrimage. He came to photograph his electric tattoo gun alongside Fang-od’s simple tools. “It’s so much more special getting a tattoo from her versus walking into a parlour and getting one from me,” he said, as he watched Fang-od tattoo a tourist with rapid, precise taps. “There’s a lot more soul to it.”

Buscalan has new guest houses, a restaurant and small shops selling canned goods and souvenirs. Men work as guides and porters.

Tourism has enriched the village, allowing it to pave some paths and trade thatch roofs for tin. Fang-od’s relatives, who used to have no water buffaloes, now own 50. Even the blacksmith, who sells bolo knives to tourists, has been able to buy two water buffaloes.

But the attention has been a mixed blessing.

Litter has become a problem and, in a village with only about 150 homes, there is little space to accommodate tourists. The Kalinga tradition of taking care of all visitors, generously and without payment, has disappeared. Tourists ignore the curfew and wander around in immodestly short shorts.

Analyn Palicas, 29, a Buscalan native, says that despite a long-standing liquor ban, people bring gin and rum, upsetting the elders, and that some bring meth to barter for marijuana.

The bigger problem, she said, is that the young men of Buscalan have dropped out of school and become “addicted to guiding,” relying on the easy money. “Fang-od isn’t going to live forever,” she said.

Whether tourists will still climb the mountain to Buscalan after Fang-od is gone remains to be seen.

The village depends on her, Fang-od says, and she worries that when she dies, its people will go hungry.

“They’re too lazy to work in the fields,” she said.

Five years ago, she chose a spot right up against her house where she wants to be buried and had a crypt made.

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For now, she is using it to store empty gin bottles and her coffee mill. When she dies, she said, tattoos are the only thing she will take with her.

Village finds fame with its tattoo queen

Manchester tattoo parlours buzzing as people commemorate attack with ink

Mancunian bee reborn as an emblem of the city’s unity, strength
By Margaret Evans, CBC News Posted: May 26, 2017 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: May 26, 2017 7:24 AM ET


Tattoo artist Pep Curnock works on a Manchester bee tattoo for Lauren Walker in the Loaded Forty Four Tattoos & Piercing studio. The bee has become a potent symbol of defiance in the wake of the bomb attack that killed 22 people earlier this week. (Richard Devey)

The Mancunian bee: striped and winged, of course, and rather simply drawn in black ink. The worker bee has been the symbol of Manchester for nearly 200 years.

This past week it was picked up and dusted off by a city racked with grief, becoming one of the most unexpected and potent symbols of defiance in the wake of the attack that shook this city to its core Monday, when 22 people, including several children, were killed by a suspected suicide bomber at a packed Ariana Grande concert.

‘It just represents how we unite and we work hard.’- Lauren Walker

The renaissance of the bee began in the most unlikely of places: in the city’s tattoo parlours. The artists known as “ink-slingers” offered to tattoo the worker bee on those who wanted it and then donate the fee to a fund for victims of the attack.

And so the lineups at the tattoo parlours began.


The renaissance of the bee began in the most unlikely of places: in the city’s tattoo parlours. ((Richard Devey))

“We saw the tattoo of the bee online last night and we just decided it would be a good way to raise some money for the [victims’] funds,” said waitress Ashley Price as she waited for a tattoo artist to free up at Loaded Forty Four Tattoo & Piercing.

Price said she also wanted to express her solidarity with her fellow citizens.

“The bee’s been a symbol of the city, and I think we just need to prove that we’ll keep staying strong and keep working.”

Bee dates back to Industrial Revolution

The symbol dates back to the Industrial Revolution. The northern England city of Manchester, of course, was at the heart of it, and people used to call the city’s factories “beehives.”


The bee was seen as an emblem of industriousness and collective effort. There are seven on the city’s crest, and around town you’ll find the worker bee symbol on garbage cans, lampposts and the floors and walls of civic buildings.

“Manchester people stick together,” said tattoo artist Pep Curnock, who was donating his talents to the cause at Loaded Forty Four.

Tattoo artist Pep Curnock inks the Manchester bee on the back of Lauren Walker’s neck. (Margaret Evans/CBC News)

“We have a north-and-south divide here in England,” he said. “It’s not very big compared to where you come from, but we’re very proud of where we come from.”

Curnock views his work as a calling, something he always knew he’d do.

“People have many reasons for having a tattoo,” he says when asked why people would stitch a reminder of such tragedy onto their skin.

“I think they’ll look back and say ‘I was a part of that,’ to help the cause a little bit.”

There were so many customers that Loaded Forty Four had to turn people away earlier this week, on the first day of the fundraising drive that will last through the weekend.

Long, low tables were full of people draped full-length on stomachs, backs or sides, depending on their chosen location for a tattoo.

Like any Mancunian establishment worth its salt, the parlour has The Smiths playing on its sound system — one of the city’s best-loved native bands.

Lauren Walker was getting a bee on the back of her neck, her own personal way of fighting back, she explained, against the senselessness of the attack.

“It just represents how we unite and we work hard,” she said above the constant drone of buzzing needles.

‘Everyone else’s logos are a bit rubbish’

But despite all the talk of solidarity and unity and looking after your own, the bomber identified by police was himself from Manchester, born and bred.

It’s a hard thing for people digest. “To me, he’s from another planet,” said Curnock.

The Manchester bee, long a symbol of the industriousness of the northern England city, has been reborn as an emblem of unity and strength. (Richard Devey)

But many in Manchester simply won’t allow their own sense of self to be taken from them by what’s happened.

“He’s from Manchester, but that doesn’t mean that he represents Manchester anymore than he represents his religion,” said Arts Council England worker Michael Shoard, spotted in the centre of town wearing a bee T-shirt.

Even the street artists were doing their bit. Russell Meehan — artist moniker: Qubek — was out with his spray cans, covering one of his own previous works to paint a bee encircled by a heart.

Artist Russell Meehan, AKA Qubek, covered one of his own previous works to paint a bee encircled by a heart. (Richard Devey)

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“It’s a nice metaphor for the people of the city — and it’s probably the coolest logo for a city,” he said. “It’s like everyone else’s logos are a bit rubbish compared to ours.”

More importantly, it clearly means a great deal to people here. Long live the Mancunian bee.


Manchester tattoo parlours buzzing as people commemorate attack with ink