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Asia travel

In pictures: the last tattoo-faced women of Myanmar’s Lai Tu Chin tribe

By recording the dying culture of the Lai Tu Chin in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, author and photographer hopes not only to preserve it but to raise funds to improve lives of tribe’s members

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 June, 2016, 8:00pm

The Hmäe Sün Näe Ti Cengkhü Nu are the tattoo-faced women of the Lai Tu Chin tribe in western Myanmar. In February 2016, I set out to create the world’s first book specifically about their people and culture. During my stay in the villages of the Lai Tu Chin, around Mrauk-U in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, I met and interviewed more than 100 tattoo-faced women, and spent time with their village elders to learn as much about the Lai Tu culture as possible.

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The women pictured are the last generation who will ever have these tattoos, which they received to mark their coming of age, given that the then military junta ruling the country banned them in 1976. I can’t help feeling that their culture must be preserved before it disappears.

One of the most important things we can do is represent the changing and disappearing cultures of the world. We can never bring them back once they are gone.

The project aims to raise awareness of, and also raise funds for, the Lai Tu Chin people. Visitors to the region will be able to learn more about the people they meet. Moreover, the Lai Tu Chin people themselves will have a record of their stories and culture in an ever changing world.

The other tattoo-faced women of East Asia - in China’s Dulong Valley

Hong Kong ultrarunner Pavel Toropov recently explored China’s remote Dulong Valley, on its border with Myanmar, where visitors still encounter older women with face tattoos. This is his story:

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Dylan Goldby, an Australian based in South Korea, writes regularly about travel and leisure for the South China Morning Post