In the heart of Southeast Asia lies Myanmar, a country of incredible beauty and diversity. It deems to be an ideal country for cultural exploration, with generations-old traditions often surviving intact due to the isolation of many of its regions. The country is characterised by the unique landforms of mountains, high valleys and plateaus which mould much of the land. This landscape is home to many Burmese tribes of different religions, traditions and cultures.
One of the most interesting and unique of these is the practice of the facial tattoo. Legend has it that generations ago, tribes in the Chin province of Myanmar began to tattoo the faces of young women. Why they would do that, you ask? Surprising as it may seem, it turns out they actually had a pretty good reason. Like in many cultures, it used to be the case for the Chin that royalty could marry whoever they wanted. And, of course, a neighboring prince could marry whomever he wanted to, simply by showing up and taking his next wife on his whim. For the Chin people, this meant repeatedly having their hearts broken as their daughters were stolen away by marauders.
Obviously, they couldn’t expect to fight against this injustice and win. So they had to get creative. Chin parents began tattooing their young daughters’ faces. Now what prince would want them as wives? Over the years, what was intended originally to make the women undesirable began to have the opposite effect. Eventually, the full facial tattoos became signs of beauty rather than the opposite.
And so female face tattooing became a thoroughgoing tradition, deeply entrenched in local culture. Of course the tattoos have not been necessary to ward off any unwed princes for some time now, so you will be glad to hear that the practice has been banned for several decades. But as the photos display, many of the older generation of Chin women still bear the amazing markings.
Another story is that the Chin women practice the facial tattoos because of religion, tradition, culture and fashion. According to their faith, the facial tattoo is directly connected to animism – the traditional Chin religion. They believe that the Monuoi, (the judge who decides fate after death), gives the ones who have facial tattoos permission to enter Heaven. The tattoos therefore represent much more than just a pattern, they give the women spiritual safeguarding even after the passing life.
With facial tattooing only seen in this part of the world, the women of Chin state are determined to keep their religion and beliefs alive. With these beliefs as a base, there is much more colour and culture to be discovered behind the tattooed faces. There is something artistic, ancient and special about the Chin tattoo.
With patterns made up of squares, lines and dots, the face is covered with ink that will stay on them forever. The art educates and enhances culture and tradition and demonstrates unique ways of living that many travellers search the world to find.
Renowned for their extreme application of this art, the Chin people, who are one of the largest ethnic groups in Myanmar, have stirred the interest of tourists, photographers and anthropologists from all over the world.