The women of the province of Chin in Burma (formerly Myanmar) were famous for their great beauty. According to the elders, there were times when the king and other nobles of Myanmar came to this region just to pick the girls they liked and take them to become concubines. Unable to defend themselves, the old women then proceeded to tattoo the girls' faces, hoping to make them ugly for the king so that they would not be taken away.
There is yet another version to the origin of facial tattoos, which would have begun to be done by men to prevent enemies and looters from kidnapping their beautiful women.
Regardless of the actual origin (which may even have passed through both stories), facial tattoos were gradually becoming a symbol of femininity, strength and endurance, a ritual to which all girls had to submit in honor of traditions. Women even report that if they didn't have the designs on their faces, they wouldn't even have found a man to marry! Currently, the oldest woman with a tattooed face in the village of Pan Paung is 70 years old and says she got the tattoos because everyone else was getting them.
In the same village as Pan Paung, 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 in recent generations, for a reason common to so many other tribes that have been abandoning the tradition of body modification: because of globalization and modernization that are reaching the remotest places, many young people are ashamed to stand out when they go to other cities, for example, or are afraid of having to move and not get a job in the future.
These tattoos were done on girls ages 11-15 - a process so painful and long that they had to be supported and held by others. The paint was taken from a special plant that some tribes mixed with buffalo kidney, and applied with a type of needle made from organic materials (such as bamboo or from the stem of another plant). The subsequent swelling was so big that girls couldn't open their eyes and sometimes not even talk!
In time: You may have noticed (or from now on you will begin to notice) that virtually every tribe we talk about has flared ears. Piercing rituals indicate the passage from one phase of life to another and are an act of courage, of maturity, because they teach to endure pain. After drilling over time, individuals begin to gradually enlarge their holes, a lifelong process. Enlarging the lobes is often seen as a process that requires patience and perseverance, so those with the largest lobes, usually at an advanced age, 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