Nas Daily, Whang-Od, and ‘clicksploitation’
It all started with a Facebook post. A few days ago, Grace Pelicas, grandniece and apprentice to Whang-Od, sounded the alarm that Nas Daily was exploiting her grandmother.
You probably know Whang-Od; she is often called the “last mambabatok” of the indigenous Butbut tribe in Buscalan, Kalinga. She is a tattoo artist, the last of a generation that still practiced tattooing as a part of life.
“WARNING!!! Whang Od academy is a scam,” Grace’s post read. She said Whang-Od had no idea that these traditions were being sold. Grace pleaded with the online community to help stop the disrespect for Whang-Od and her tribe. Within hours, this went viral, and two social media phenomena—Whang-Od and Nas Daily—went to war.
Nas Daily understands social media. The media company began as a one-minute video series by Arab Israeli video blogger Nuseir Yassin. It has 20 million followers on Facebook alone. It also runs an online academy dubbed “Nas Academy,” where Nas was selling an online course called “Whang-Od Academy” and lessons on “the ancient art of tattooing” for P750 a pop.
Tattooing is a part of Butbut culture. It is the simple reason why “Whang-Od Academy” was so horrible: generations of indigenous knowledge packaged in three videos made by a foreigner and sold back to Filipinos for a cheap ticket, all without consent. Analyn Salvador-Amores, who has done extensive work with the Butbut, outlines it best in her article, where she asks: “Where do you draw the line?”
I want to digress from Nas Daily’s blatant disregard for both the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the consent of the Butbut tribe, for which a formal investigation should take place. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples has since released a statement saying “bandying a contract on social media is not a proof of compliance,” referring to a clip Nas Daily released of Whang-Od affixing her signature on a piece of paper.
Instead, let’s focus on this: It seems Whang-Od has won the battle, largely because of her own virality. On Facebook, I saw a post where a man tried to shift blame to the Butbut tribe on a Facebook group called “Tattooed by Whang-Od,” which has over 50,000 members. He was laughed out; comment upon comment defended Whang-Od.
But protection shouldn’t require virality. For too long, both indigenous people and people in the tourism sector have had to rely on themselves and their fans.
In fact, the entire premise of Whang-Od’s popularity goes way back to a stint on the MTV show “Tattoo Hunter” around a decade ago, which set the stage for her face to be spread across the entire world. The Philippines is a country with many indigenous communities that practice tattoo culture; a mix of circumstance and luck allowed the Butbut to flourish, to turn their knowledge into a thriving livelihood.
Free exposure on social media has long been plugging the holes in a broken system: It promoted the Philippines to the world for free, bringing us money and tourists. It made up for the lack of a more purposeful, sustainable tourism strategy — at a price that we can now see clearly.
It has brought us content creators like Nas Daily. Nas Daily is already being canceled all over the world; it has apparently strategically chosen the Philippines as its safety blanket. After all, we have roughly 89 million social media users in 2021, and that number is increasing. How poetic it would be if it was also the Philippines’ social media landscape that banished it for good.
But the bigger picture: We don’t need foreigners and content creators exploiting Filipinos for clicks (call it “clicksploitation”). What we need is more support and protection for vulnerable communities like indigenous people, many of whom we rely on for tourism. Consider also the DOT’s push for farm tourism and who this plan leaves vulnerable. Sure, there has been some recognition and support coming from government agencies (Whang-Od is a National Treasure). But clearly, that isn’t enough. Grace herself has been down to Manila several times since the COVID-19 pandemic started, scheduling tattoo sessions in the city, in order to make money while tourists cannot travel to Buscalan. Where is the support for her and others like her?
If this had happened to anyone who was not a social media superstar like Whang-Od, I doubt we would be talking about it right now. But now that we are, perhaps we can demand better and use the power of this virality so that Filipinos can finally rely on more than just social media.
* * *
Nina Unlay, a journalist, is currently the editor in chief of www.gridmagazine.ph, a travel and culture publication based in the Philippines.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.