Carsten Schmidt – our intrepid Country Manager in Myanmar, traveled on an inspection trip to the mountainous Chin State in western Myanmar. . . and he made some new friends along the way.
“Most of them got their tattoos when they were around 12 years old”
The ladies belong to the Chin Tribe and are famous for their tattooed faces. We had the opportunity to sit with them for a while and talk about their everyday lives. Most of them got their tattoos when they were around 12 years old, by the way. The whole process can take up to 3 days. The tattoo needles are usually made from bamboo skewers or from thorns. The ink is a mixture of ox bile, soot, plants and lard.
. . .the last living generation to embrace this custom.
Incomes are not very high in this area of the country, so to supplement their income the women make handcrafted traditional jewelry. Then the crafts are sold at local markets and wherever else they can.
No one knows exactly how the custom originated, but one theory is that the tattoos began years ago as a form of identification when women were captured or kidnapped by neighboring tribes. Another legend is that the tattoos were a way of intentionally disfiguring the womens’ beauty so that they would not be taken and forced into marriage by the Burmese king.
The practice of facial tattoos is frowned upon by the current Burmese authorities. It was officially forbidden in 1960, although a few traditionalist tattooers still practiced. The younger generation is not very interested in partaking in the custom. This part of Chin culture will soon be gone. I was able to witness the last living generation to embrace this custom. I left feeling very fortunate indeed.”