My favorite experience during my most recent visit to Burma this January was the day we spent at two small Chin villages in the far northern part of Rakkine State. It was a 2 hour boat ride up the river from Mrauk U (after the 6 hour ride from Sittwe to Mrauk U). This is the most southern range of the Chin people. Chin State itself is sparsely populated and remains one of the least developed areas of Myanmar. Several of these women we met were not healthy and suffer chronic and likely terminal disease. Sadly, like their entire villages, there is minimal chance of them accessing health care of any kind.
The most exciting reasons to visit these villages is to witness their very simple way of life, to interact with and photograph the elderly women with their extensive facial tattooing. The Chin traditionally practiced tattooing of girls faces around the age of 15. While the origin of the practice is not actually known, common lore is that these marks were used to discourage them from being stolen by other tribes. The practice was banned in the 1960s following assumption of power of the military regime, and has also been discouraged by the Christian missionaries. I have heard that the practice does continue sometimes in the most remote Chin villages, but nonetheless the practice is rapidly disappearing. I used an infrared camera for most of my portraits as it enhances the vibrancy of the tattoos that you cannot capture with a regular camera. I have attached a couple of color photos below so you can compare. I am so very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet these kind and beautiful women and to share their portraits, their stories and their disappearing culture. I will never forget them.