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Tattoo in Chinese Minorities

article selected from Travel China weekly

The Chinese Drung and Dai minorities have tattoo customs inherited from their ancestors.

Among the Drung ethnic minority, women have tattoos on their faces. In the past, girls were tattooed when they turned 12 or 13 as a symbol of maturity.

First, an old woman would dip a bamboo slip into sooty water and draw on the girl's face, then beat a thorn into the skin with a small stick in the designed area, and fill the pricked spots with soot. When scabs formed, a dark blue design was left on the face, The tattoo was drawn between the two eyebrows and around the mouth in diamond shape and on the cheek with dots, forming a flying butterfly design.

This form of tattooing is popular in the upper reaches of the Drung River. Along the lower reaches, the tattoos are simpler, with two or three lines on the lower jaw.

The Drung minority tattoo originated from the late Ming Dynasty about 350 years ago. At that time, the Drung people were usually attacked by other ethnic groups, and women were captured as slaves. To avoid being raped, the Drung women tattooed their faces to make themselves less attractive and, thus, protect themselves. It was a tragedy. Though the Drung women are not threatened by other minorities now, they retain their tattoo custom, and it has become a symbol of maturity for Drung women.

tattoo on back

tattoo on the back

a Drung woman

a Drung woman with tattoo on face

Tattooing is also an ancient custom of the Dai people, and can still be found in some remote villages in the Dai inhabited area or among some old Dai people.

Both men and women were tattooed according to the Dai custom, men on the strong muscles and women on the back of hand, arm or between the eyebrows.

In old times, the Dai Children had designs pricked into their skin when they were 5 or 6, for it was said to be the best age. Later, they were tattooed at 14 or 15 as a symbol of reaching maturity.

There are no fixed designs in Dai tattoo, most preferring tiger or dragon designs drawn in black with black plant juice.

The Dai people have a long tattoo history. In ancient times, they lived by the river and were often hit by strange monsters. Later they discovered that a black skin could keep the monster away, and they began to tattoo themselves in this way to prevent attacks.

As time went on, tattooing lost its original function and has become a symbol of the boldness and bravery of men and the beauty of women. Now, tattoos are drawn on the back of the hands in octagonal flower design, and a dot is tattooed between the eyebrows of girls, symbolizing their beauty. With these tattoos, the Dai people can easily recognize their ethnic friends even when they are not wearing their minority costums.

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