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Beauty and Bloodfaces.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Saturday, 5th September 2009
 
Living in the hills of Myanmar's Southern Chin State and Northern Rakine are a very special group of women, women whom Jens Uwe Parkitny was lucky to get to know and to photograph.

They appear in his book "Bloodfaces".

The first time Jens Uwe Parkitny (pictured right) showed me his photos of the Chin women of Myanmar, I had goosebumps.

The tattoos on their faces were so vivid and instead of scarring or masking their faces, appeared to accentuate their strength and beauty.

That was in 2001. Every year after that, Jens would disappear for a couple of months into Myanmar's Southern Chin State and Northern Rakine.

I could tell Jens was on a mission. I knew him well enough to recognise that gleam in his eye and that intensity of expression when he gets a bee up his bonnet.

In this case, he had women and tattoos on his mind and he was determined to capture these incredible women on whose faces live an ancient tribal practice.

He recalled his first, chance encounter with a woman sporting tribal markings on her face. "I was so fascinated by her that I returned year after year in search of women with facial tattoos."

So over five years, he trekked to villages in the Southern Chin State and Northern Rakine area where these women lived. He lived amongst them, and he earned their trust enough for them to let him into their lives, and photograph them.

Each year, he returned with new images and each year, he would show me a few.

Finally, after five years, he felt it was time to share his work and the result, a book, Bloodfaces. (Disclosure: I was project editor)

The descriptive for the book, published by Singapore's Flame of the Forest Publishing, reads, "In his one-of-a-kind book, Bloodfaces, Jens Uwe Parkitny's lenses draw us up close to the women from tribal groups such as the Laytu, and his camera unveils not only the variety of delicate tattoo patterns among various Chin groups, but also, more importantly, the innate strength and courage of these women who sat in pain, enduring the needlework, as blood and tears ran down their faces."

The book, a limited edition, is the first of its kind to portrait of what is left in contemporary Myanmar (Burma) of an ancient tribal practice which is vanishing fast but was once wide spread among indigenous ethnics in Asia.

Though facial tattoos are still practiced by the Naga tribes in North East India, very little is known about the fact that until recently the Chin in Rakhine and Southern Chin State tattooed the faces of their young girls and women.

In an article which appeared in Jetstar Asia's inflight magazine, Jens says while the exact meaning of the patterns is unknown, they relate to clan affiliation, beauty and spiritual protection, marking the transition from child to womanhood. Traditionally, tattoos were applied by skilled female practitioners on young clan members aged between seven and 15.

Jens says most subjects recalled the pain, caused by thorns perforating the skin. "Tears and blood run down their cheeks, turning their faces into ‘blood faces'," he says.

Visit Bloodfaces - www.bloodfaces.com - to learn more about these women and the book. Jens' share of book proceeds are donated to a children's charity in Yangon.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com

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