Wednesday morning greeted netizens with a curious post being passed around social media pages. It was a status update from Gracia Palicas warning her Facebook friends that “Whang Od Academy is not real.”
Whang-Od Academy turns out to be one of the featured classes in an online educational platform called Nas Academy. Judging from its website, it’s a little like Masterclass where experts in different fields—Massimo Bottura (Italian cooking), Anna Wintour (being a boss), Steve Martin (comedy)—talk about their work and, essentially, how to be like them. Like Masterclass, the Nas Academy video classes can also be accessed for a fee.
In her post, Palicas said that her grandmother, the 104-year old Apo Whang-Od, the oldest living tattoo artist in the country, “did not sign any contract with @NasDaily to do any academy.” She expressed concern that some people are “taking advantage” of their culture. “PLEASE HELP US STOP this disrespect to the legacy of Apo Whang Od and the Butbot Tribe.”
Nas Daily is an online platform founded by Nuseir Yassin, an Arab Israeli vlogger/content creator who started out producing one-minute daily videos on Facebook and now has 20 million followers on the site (on its thousandth day, it claims to have reached a staggering 11.8 million followers). Nas Daily recently launched Nas Academy which taps popular content creators online to deliver lessons on a variety of topics.
Among these personalities is Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, and soon to join the roster of teachers are broadcast journalist Jessica Soho, designer Michael Cinco and motoring influencer James Deakin.
According to the site, Gray will be teaching a class called “Discover Your Inner Queen,” and for the price of P1,450 those who sign up will be able to avail of a “5-hour Learning Experience, A Meetup With Catriona Herself, 2 Live Sessions with Trainers & Your Classmates, Access to A Vibrant, Loving Community Of Queens.”
Meanwhile for P750, those interested can learn “The Ancient Art of Tattooing” from the most popular tattoo artist in the Philippines herself, Apo Whang-Od. "Prepare to learn a 1000-year old art form from the last Kalinga tattoo artist in the world," said the class description. It also said Whang-Od "will reveal all her rituals, tools and methods for making traditional tattoos. All packed in a course that's unlike anything we've ever done before."
Yikes what’s going on here? pic.twitter.com/XqHR35Yi2p— Tammy David (@tammydavid) August 4, 2021
But this was Wednesday morning. Palicas’ posts have already been taken down since, and Whang Od has also disappeared in the Nas Academy website. When you click onto this link you will just be brought to a page where Catriona’s beautiful mug greets you with a smile.
ANCX got in touch with Nas Daily via Facebook and email but we have yet to receive a reply. We were able to speak to Palicas this morning but she requested we don’t post about our conversation. According to reportr.com, “The two posts have since been deleted after Nas Academy asked Palicas to remove her posts, in exchange for their removal of the course from their catalogue.”
In the second post of Palicas, she said a miscommunication took place. “I spoke to [Apo] and she said she did not understand what the translators were saying,” wrote the grandniece in the now taken down post. “Am sorry to tell you she will not be joining the @nasdaily. I know you have good intentions of sharing our culture to the next generation. However our village concern is that some people are profiting and expointing (sic) our art and culture. I know you spoke to someone and gave some money and will share profits, but Apo Whang-Od is not aware of your contract.”
The two posts quickly spread online, likely shared by fans and those concerned about Apo Whang Od who is beloved by many and considered a national treasure. It will be remembered that in 2017, her presence at the furniture and design fair Manila FAME caused quite a stir when people assumed she was being exploited in the event, after a photo of her seemingly exhausted went viral. It turned out Whang Od did agree to the two-day live tattooing, including a speaking engagement.
Apo Whang Od is among the last tattooed women of Kalinga. She still practices the ancient form of tattooing called batok which she learned at 15 from a village warrior, an art form that has been in the Philippines even before the Spanish arrived on our shores.