Chin Tattoo Women. Myanmar is an incredibly diverse hodgepodge, with 135 distinct ethnic groups and 108 language groups. That is quite a punch for a country of 50 million. One of these ethnic groups is the Chin people who could be found in the western part of Myanmar (and also in India and Bangladesh). The Chin people are spread across many tribes and clans and also speak in multiple dialects. Historically, these Hill Tribe people were animists but missionaries in the 19th and 20th century converted most to Christianity.
The Chin people have been subject to persecution since the overthrow in democracy in Myanmar in 1962. The Chin have been subject to forced assimilation under the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. They have lived in poverty with the threat of torture, forced labor, and even extrajudicial killings.
The Chin women are recognized for their unique facial tattoos. Two competing lore explain the history of these distinct facial markings. Legend has it that young girls’ faces were marked to dissuade Burmese royalty from adding them to their harem. The concept was to transform the girls into ugly creatures. The other narrative has each tribe marking the females in their group with distinct tattoos in the case of a neighboring tribe kidnapping their females. In either case, one feels a sense of wonderment and curiosity when meeting these women. The girls endured many multi-hour sessions of a thorn repeatedly jabbing their face, including eyelids which resulted in their tattoo. The government banned this practice in the 1960s. So, today the last of these women remain in their villages, with their tradition fading away.
It is possible to visit these villages today from Mrauk U. Mrauk U is three hour boat ride from Sittwe, a city which you can fly to from Yangon. Mrauk U has a small cottage industry bringing tourists to see the Chin women. Most hotels and guest houses can arrange these visits. I was quoted $50-$80 for the day, and this price can be split between multiple people. The day I went I spotted several other tourists as well with other guides.
The morning begins with a 30 minute ride over a sometime bumpy road to the Lay Myo River. I was then met by a long tail boat.
I comfortably ensconced myself on a plastic chair underneath the canopied boat. With the hum of the motor, I took in the scenes of life on the river.
We made a pit stop at a local market.
The total boat ride took about three hours. With my guide we visited three villages at a very leisurely pace, taking plenty of pictures, and speaking with the locals via my translator.
Life was simple in these villages. There was no electricity save for the odd small solar panel and no running water. The structures were bare, sometimes covered in mat-like walls or simply wide open. People eked out livings farming off the land with a handful of animals sauntering the locals’ homes. I noticed the odd piglet or chicken scampering around.
The Chin women have developed into convincing salespeople with a side business of selling colorful scarves for a flat 10,000 Kyat and accepting the small tip (2,000-3,000 Kyat) to smile for the camera. I befriended some local kids enjoying the afternoon and playing Sepak takraw, similar to volleyball but using your head and feet, and a wooden rattan ball. I joined them for 30 minutes lathering up a nice sweat.
The day was a great and worthwhile experience.
Chin Tattoo Women.