We had arranged in Sittwe for a guide, a boat and a special day visa in order to travel on to the semiautonomous Chin State. The ethnic Chin struck a deal with the Myanmar government at the Panglong Conference. The Chin won’t fight for their own independent state. In return the government basically leaves them alone to manage their affairs.
As we headed up the river the small boat traveled slowly. It was the last day of the year, a calm morning with no winds.
Sky and water reflected one another like twin mirrors.
We sailed on for several hours, and I was overtaken by a sense of displacement that was complete. It was preternaturally still, so quiet and without movement that it seemed we had sailed to a place located somewhere between firmament and earth. It wasn’t quite attached to either.
Finally the boat came to a stop and we debarked and began our walk up into the first Chin village. The villages are extremely remote and what makes them extraordinary (for us anyway) is the fact that the Chin practice the art of tattooing. The tradition had been strongly discouraged by the government since the 60’s, and was believed to have almost died out.
In the villages we sailed to by boat, only the old women were reputed to still have the facial tattoos. The men had gone out into the jungle and gathered the materials necessary for the tattooing process. Several days of painstaking tattoo work ensued; only faces of young teenaged girls were transformed.
We walked through the village with our guide talking to the locals.
Pigs and puppies tumbled on the path as people worked. The tamped dirt was cleared and clean.
After perhaps 20 minutes of walking through the village and watching and being watched, the female elders suddenly appeared to meet us.
Part 3 to be posted soon.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)