Imagine getting your whole face tattooed by thorns. Would you bear the amount of pain? Well, Yin Yin, a Burmese Chin woman, tattooed her entire face by thorns so she would be ugly. I decided to interview her since I was always curious as to why she tattooed her face. She wanted to destroy her beauty so she wouldn’t be harmed or got sold. Yin Yin is a seventy-year-old woman that is a friend of my mom. When I interviewed her, her story astonished me as to why she decided to tattoo her face. Yin has lived with the tattooed on her face since the age of nine. She firmly believes tattooing her face saved her life. Chin State is located along the borders of Myanmar. The history of Chin tribes tattooing their faces began generations ago, and it was for a good cause.
To start my interviewed, I asked Yin why she and the other women tattooed their faces.It was normal for us to get tattooed when we were at the age of nine or ten years old. It was a tradition that we wanted to keep, Yin replied. There must be a reason or history behind tattooing your faces, I continued.
Oh yes, a long time ago, the royal family came to our village, and the young prince fell in love with one of the prettiest girls in the tribe. The prince by force took her to marry her since then Royals would annually come and prey on beautiful young girls from our tribe to marry as tokens. To protect their daughters, the parents decided to tattoo their young daughters so their beauty wouldn’t show. Ultimately, the parents were sad to make their daughters appear, ugly but they did not want to lose them either. Slowly, I studied her face and all the different lines, shapes that looked like spider webs and ovals. It was fascinating to see a person that had so many detailed tattoos that were on her face. I couldn’t imagine the amount of pain that she had to go through with it.
We moved to a different room filled with old photographs. There were many pictures of Yin when she was a little girl. She looked beautiful and graceful. Do you regret getting tattooed I asked?
I used to regret it when I was in my teen years, but now I come to appreciate it. I may look different now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not beautiful, my face is a masterpiece of art, she exclaimed. How long did it take to tattoo your face, I asked her.
It took a day to complete the whole process, and it was excruciating, mostly around the eye area, she replied within a sorrow voice. What are the ingredients used to make the ink for the tattoo I asked curiously?
We made it from a mixture of cow bile, soot, plants, and pig’s fat, She answered. After all the ingredients gathered, they take thorns or pine needles that has durability, dipped it in ink and hammered slowly through their faces to make designs. Different tribes in the region got different designs to distinguish themselves from other tribes. How long was your recovery I questioned?
Not very fast, it took me two weeks to be able to move my face and to speak again properly, she said laughing.
Living in America, I feel like I am popular, she joked. She explained to me the different types of looks she gets when she goes to public places. How do you feel when you are around people I asked.
Sometimes people tend to stare a lot, I don’t mind it, but it can get annoying, she said. Do you ever think of removing it I asked?
No, never. I will not remove anything because it defines who I am as a person and my background. It’s too historical to remove this now, she replied with a smile.
Even though tattooing their faces might have started it because of a tragedy. Now it’s considered as art, and it’s incredible and captivating. The tradition is slowly dying out now due to villagers moving into bigger cities and are exposed to city life. Many Chin teenagers are against tattooing their faces now along with the Burmese government. They believe the world is evolving and changing every day. Even though Yin Yin likes the tattooing, she doesn’t want young people to feel obligated to get them. We should appreciate Yin Yin and the last of the face tattooed women because after them there will be none left.
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