Online learning platform Nas Academy went viral this week after its advertised masterclass on the "Art of Ancient Tattooing" was branded a scam by a relative of the legendary Kalinga tattoo master Apo Whang-od, who was supposed to teach it.
Its founder, Palestinian-Israeli vlogger Nas Daily (real name: Nuseir Yassin) disputed the challenge with the "clearest evidence" -- a video of the contract signing that showed Whang-Od being assisted by a niece.
However, Gracia Palicas, the granddaughter who first brought attention to the issue, did not really deny the existence of the signed contract. What she complained about was that her 104-year-old grandmother "did not understand what the translators were saying".
The issue has since been muddled by other narratives. Exposés originally meant to support claims of Yassin's exploitation of Filipino culture seem to have been overruled by other personalities "cancellation" of each other.
Going back to the original issue: what really was Nas Daily's fault?
According to UP Diliman Anthropology Professor Nestor Castro, whose dissertation for his doctorate degree was focused on the politics of ethnic identity in the Philippines, Nas Daily does not understand Kalinga culture.
Whang-od is not just an individual artist. She is a member of the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga, which means "her skill on the art of traditional tattooing is derived from the indigenous knowledge of generations of Kalinga ancestors", he said.
"This indigenous knowledge is collectively owned (although it may be individually practiced) by the Butbut. Thus, the consent of the members of the Butbut is necessary if this knowledge is to be shared to outsiders. Getting the permission of one individual is not enough," he said.
Nas Daily also appeared to be unaware of Philippine laws concerned with the rights of indigenous peoples, he said.
Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) provides that "free and prior informed consent (FPIC) is required when the knowledge of indigenous peoples is used for commercial purposes".
"This consent is secured from the members of the ancestral domain, in this case the members of the Butbut Tribe and not from just one individual or her family. This is especially true of what Whang-od Academy will reveal to outsiders about the indigenous community's rituals," he said.
The agreement between the parties should also be written in English and the local Kinalingga language and witnessed by the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). Meaning, it's not enough that a family member was present to "translate" a contract that was written in a language as foreign as English.
"I believe that the problem can still be corrected if Nas Daily respects Kalinga culture and follows the law," Castro said.
As of writing, the vlogger has lost at least 250 thousand followers since the issue erupted.