The women of Burma's Chin province (formerly Myanmar) were famous for their great beauty. According to the elders, there was a time when the king and other nobles of Myanmar went to this region just to choose the girls they liked and took them to become concubines. With no way to defend themselves, the old women then began to tattoo the girls' faces, hoping to make them ugly to the king so that they would not be taken away.

There is yet another version for the origin of facial tattoos, which would have started to be made by men to prevent enemies and marauders from kidnapping their beautiful women.

Regardless of the real origin (which may even have passed through both stories), facial tattoos gradually became a symbol of femininity, strength, and endurance, a ritual that all girls had to submit to in honor of the traditions. Women even report that if they didn't have the designs on their faces, they wouldn't have even found a man to marry! Today, the oldest woman with a tattooed face in the village of Pan Paung is 70 years old and says that she got the tattoos because everyone else was getting them.

In the same Pan Paung village, the youngest woman with facial tattoos is 60 years old. Although in other villages it is still possible to find younger women with tattoos, the practice has become extinct among the last generations, for a reason common to so many other tribes that are abandoning the tradition of body modification: because of the globalization and modernization that are reaching the most remote places, many young people feel ashamed to stand out when they go to other cities, for example, or are afraid that they will have to move and will not be able to get a job in the future.

These tattoos were made on girls between the ages of 11 and 15 ? a process so painful and long that they had to be supported and held by other people. The ink was taken from a special plant, which some tribes mixed with buffalo kidney, and applied with a type of needle, made from organic materials (like bamboo or from the stem of another plant). The swelling afterwards was such that the girls could not open their eyes and sometimes could not even speak!

By the way: you may have noticed (or, from now on, you will start to notice) that practically all the tribes we have talked about have their ears enlarged. The rituals of piercing indicate the passage from one phase of life to another and are an act of courage, of maturity, because they teach how to endure pain. After piercing, over time, individuals begin to enlarge their holes gradually, a process that extends throughout life. Enlarging the lobes is often seen as a process that requires patience and perseverance, so those who have the largest lobes, usually already at advanced ages, are the most experienced and wise. Take, for example, the size of the holes in the Buddha statues?


  • By Francine Oliveira at the late TattooTattoo

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