Gold / 2012 / Portraiture / Culture

Stealing Beauty

  • Photographer
    Brent Lewin

The sparsely populated Chin State is home several subgroups all calling themselves Zo-mi meaning 'mountain people.' Separated from the rest of Myanmar (formerly Burma) by mountains and being a travel restricted State for foreigners, the Chin have little contact with the modern world. Historically the Chin were adored for their beauty and King's would come to villages to steal men's wives. As a measure against their women being stolen, village elders started tattooing teenage girls to make them 'ugly'. The tradition stuck and over generations eventually lost it's original meaning of ugliness and came to represent courage, beauty and strength. However, as these traditional groups began moving outside their villages, the struggle between tradition and modernity has placed tribal Chin culture under increasing threat of being absorbed by the dominant Burmese. Unique language, customs and dress have been abandoned. Under this pressure to assimilate, the practice of facial tattooing has also been discontinued. Currently there remain only a handful of women adorning facial tattoos.