When traveling to these villages it is important to do it with a native guide as otherwise you won’t get access to the people. Unfortunately the visits nevertheless are a very touristy affair, the villagers are used to people coming and staring at their tattooed grandmothers. Each of the different villages uses a distinct tattoo pattern, to differentiate from which village they come by a simple look at their face.
I hated the idea of snooping around and treating them as in a open air museum. So I had the idea to bring my fuji instax printer. In the first village we were invited, like everybody else, into the house of the ‘grandma on duty’, and were offered the obligatory banana and some tea.
Everybody around was polite but not more. But then I took out the printer and told some kids, via our guide, to pose for a photo. Oh the surprise when they saw their picture printed. No idea how many pictures I took that now adorn their walls but everybody lined up for this unique photo session, kids, grandmas with kids, grandmas alone. We all had so much fun together!
Of course we also bought some shawls from the ladies as it is the only money they can make, weaving and selling them in their open-air ‘shops’: bamboo fences lining the village path. Their idea of a shopping mall, we simply loved it!
The ’art’ of face-tattooeing is an interesting part of Myanmar’s diverse and distinctive culture, much like Thanakha (face-painting).
One legend goes that people were so impressed by the Chin women’s beauty that they decided to kidnap them as brides. To prevent their daughters from this destiny the families began to tattoo their faces to make them ugly. Today this tradition is forbidden, as it was banned in the 1970s. Nowadays the only women with tattooed faces are well over 70 years old.
Their faces with the inked patterns are strangely beautiful to see. But it is good the tradition no longer has a place in today's world. In another small village we met a very old lady, the only one there still alive with a tattoo. She told us her touching story, how horribly painful the procedure had been, especially when tattooing the eyelids. When it was time for her younger sister to undergo the procedure she cried and pleaded with her parents not to make the little one suffer like she had. Fortunately her parents did listen to her!