Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Stealing Beauty in Myanmar's Chin State

This portrait series is part of a larger personal project - Stealing Beauty - exploring the dying tradition of facial tattooing among females in Asia. I wrote this feature for Fah Thai focusing on the history of the tradition told through Daw Blaint, the last woman of the Chinbo tribe who adorns a tattoo. They didn't include her in the spread but she's pictured below (2nd portrait).

The sparsely populated Chin State is home several subgroups all calling themselves Zo-mi meaning 'mountain people.' Separated from the rest of Myanmar by mountains and being a travel restricted State for foreigners, the Chin have little contact with the modern world. Historically the Chin were adored for their beauty and King's would come to villages to steal men's wives. As a measure against their women being stolen, village elders started tattooing teenage girls to make them 'ugly'. The tradition stuck and over generations eventually lost it's original meaning of ugliness and came to represent courage, beauty and strength. However, as these traditional groups began moving outside their villages, the struggle between tradition and modernity has placed tribal Chin culture under increasing threat of being absorbed by the dominant Burmese. Unique language, customs and dress have been abandoned. Under this pressure to assimilate, the practice of facial tattooing has also been discontinued. Currently there remain only a handful of women adorning facial tattoos. Below are some other environmental portraits.