According to an old legend a Burmese king once traveled to the remote hill regions of Chin state and he was so impressed by the women’s beauty that he brought one back to his palace to take as a bride. What happened then is still unknown. Some says the girl, desperate and unhappy managed to escape and disguised herself by making incisions in her beautiful face using a knife in order not to get caught again.
Anthropologists believe that Chin families began to tattoo their daughters to ensure they would not be taken away from hostile invaders from other tribes. 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.
Legend or truth, facial tattoos became part of Chin culture nearly a thousand years ago and re-defined the concept of traditional beauty. Tattoos were made using leaves, grass shoots and soot. The leaves give color, the soot acts as a disinfectant and the grass shoots are added at the end, acting as a bandage and natural healing cover. The M’uun women are the most easily recognisable, with large looping “P” or “D” shapes on their faces and “Y” symbols on their foreheads. The M’kaan women have line tattoos on both their foreheads and chins. The Yin Du and Dai tribes feature long vertical-line tattoos across the entire face, including the eyelids; similar to the Nga Yahwho have dots as well as lines.
The Chin-State is still one of the Burma's poorest and most isolated regions with some areas widely inaccessible. This could explain why facial tattoo and local traditions have been passed from one generation to the other until now. The ritual was officially banned by the government in the 1960s and it doesn’t attract contemporary Chin girls anymore.
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