Rarely Visited Pan Paung Chin Village, Myanmar (Burma)

Of course, another early morning transfer to a smaller boat to head upriver to the Chin Tribe area, 45 miles away from Mrauk U. This Chin tribe uses a spider-web pattern of tattoos on their faces. The legend is that the Chin women were so beautiful that the Chin men had them tattooed to keep other men away. Only about 200-300 persons visit the Chin area during the tourist season, and only five villages still have women with tattooed faces. Foreigners are only welcomed in two of them and in the one we were going to visit, only a few tattooed women still survive.

Heading upriver there were many Bangladesh and Rahkine people living along the riverbank in little villages. The Bangladeshi are refugees who have made their way over the border into Myanmar. Every now and then, Myanmar does a roundup and sends them back to Bangladesh. Bangladesh then refuses to accept them back and kicks them over the border into Myanmar. A vicious cycle and because everyone is desperate for a job and willing to work for almost nothing, the daily workers earn maybe 33 cents a day max..

on the way to see the Chin Tribe, Myanmar

A very slow ride upriver with a 1.3hp boat engine but at least this ride was scenic. Constant river traffic that included boats with colorful patchwork sails laden with logs…View image….more bamboo log rafts floating downstream…

colorful patchwork sails, Myanmar

another bamboo log raft, Myanmar

…villagers going up and down incredibly steep and muddy embankments to get water from the river or wash clothes (I would have been on my backside)…

carrying water from the river in Myanmar

Two other foreigners (LOU PEWS) had arrived in Pan Paung village before us. Counting them and us, a grand total of 5 people visited the Chin Tribe that day. The women in the village can get married at age 14 but some wait until 26. They usually elope with a dowry, go to the boy’s village and ask permission to stay. The village had 60 houses and 300 people with only five tattooed women remaining. (The younger generation has no intention of enduring all that pain.) The very sweet ladies were 63, 55, 55, 55, and 54, all widows. …View image

Chin Woman in Myanmar

Chin spider web tattoo in Myanmar

intricate spider-web design on Chin woman, Myanmar

Their faces were tattooed at age 7 over a two-day period. They’d tattoo one line for an hour, take a break, then do another line. Can you imagine how painful this process must have been? Ouch! One of the Chin ladies looked familiar to me and when I looked back through my Lonely Planet book on Burma, sure enough, there was the same woman’s photograph in their book. These photos are all MINE!

They followed us while we took a fast walk through Pan Paung before eating lunch…and there was one little store that had a television running off a generator…

watching tv in Pan Paung Chin village, Myanmar

a casual stroll through Pan Paung Chin Village, Myanmar

We ate our packed lunches in a raised shelter along with the village elders while the other villagers stood around the shelter watching us….View image…probably commenting on everything from my hair and clothing to whatever the packed lunches consisted of… and after lunch Toe passed out hard candy to all the children and adults in the village…(it’s their custom)…View image

ex-Marine chowing down lunch in Pan Paung, Myanmar

family in Pan Paung, Myanmar

How can anyone enjoy food when extremely thin, malnourished people are standing and watching every mouthful? ex-Marine and I only ate 1/3 and handed the rest to Mr. Headman for distribution. (Now, that’s a possibility for a new diet book…”Lose Weight Fast: Eat Your Meals In Front of Starving People”…

The huge holes in the ears story is…ears pierced again at age 7 (those poor little kids…painful tattoos and ears) and they start by inserting little bamboo sticks through the holes. The holes are enlarged over many years until big silver plugs (usually purchased for them by their husbands) can be inserted. The older women never remove them except to sell if they need money. The widows are usually semi-supported by the village or children, if any have survived. I felt terribly sorry for them all. A person couldn’t have possibly been any thinner than they were and can you imagine what these people probably thought of all us hefty tourists coming to visit? We do pay for the privilege and that brings some extra money into the villages. The familiar story – on the one hand…tourism spoils…on the other hand…tourism brings needed income…

When these women die, this entire tradition will die with them.

well-fed Sheila with four Chin size 0’s in Myanmar

It was time to motor back to Mrauk U with flowers in my hat, a gift from these sweet women…

flower-bedecked Travels With Sheila in Myanmar

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