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China Daily Website

First cut is the deepest

Updated: 2013-02-18 09:42
By Gao Zhuyuan in Bangkok ( China Daily)

Christian Develter and his assistant Peter Smits had a "scary" moment when they encountered a Chin woman earlier this year.

Having lived in Bangkok since the 1990s, Develter and Smits developed a keen interest in Asia and tribal culture.

It was during a trip to Yangon in Myanmar that the two Belgians first bumped into a woman with facial tattoos at a local market, who they later found out was a Chin woman.

First cut is the deepest

A history of hair 

They learned more about the Chin tattoos when they chanced upon a book in a Hong Kong store. It inspired them to find out more for themselves, so they booked a trip to Chin State in the northwestern part of Myanmar in March, as the country is back on the tourist map after years of isolation.

Despite knowing about the face tattoos, they say they practically jumped out of their skins when they saw a Chin woman whose whole face was literally "carved" in complex patterns by thorns that use a mixture of sap from a jungle plant, ash and chicken blood or buffalo kidney, to create the coloration.

The tattoos signify the origin, social rank, strength and beauty of the Chin women.

Develter's paintings of the Chin women are more than just a "travelogue". They are also an attempt to create experimental art.

"I did two or three paintings on my iPad so I could show them the result," Develter says. "It was something new for them."

Today, few Chin women have facial tattoos, not only because young Chin women are no longer interested in them, but also because they are banned by the government.

Smits comments that there are few tattooed women in the central regions of Chin State, but in relatively remote areas where the government has a looser grip, there are more.

In Mindat, they say there were still young Chin women with facial tattoos, though it was hard to judge their ages.

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