In the Chin region of Myanmar live the last of the ‘Chin Women,’ an ethnic minority of women with astonishing face tattoos.
These tattoos are made using grass, leaves, shoots, and soot. It is applied or tattooed on using sharp cane thorns.
According to legend, this practice began when a Burmese King was impressed by the beauty of a young Chin woman and he kidnapped her to make her his bride. It became a norm for their young girls to be often kidnapped by kings of neighbouring areas and forced into marriage. Because of this, Chin families began to tattoo their daughter’s faces in order to ensure they would not be kidnapped and taken away.
Other Chin tales say that the tattooing was done for beauty, and perhaps more plausibly, to differentiate different Chin tribes in case one was kidnapped by another.
Another explanation may have to do with religion. Since the time of British colonisation, many Chin minorities have converted to Christianity or else accepted it alongside the animist beliefs. Some Chin remember being taught by their local pastors that only those who had tattoos would be deemed fit to go to heaven.
With time, this practice became the norm and a form of beauty for decades.
However, the Government banned the practice in the 1960s in an effort to introduce modernization with missionaries in the Chin also criticizing it as barbaric. These women are the last generation to all bear facial tattoos; when they die, a chapter of Chin history will be relegated to the textbooks.