Myanmar has many minorities. Before Myanmar was Myanmar, it consisted of different empires and areas with different peoples. One of the poorest minorities in the country are the Chin people. Most of them live in the Chin state, but that is off limits to tourists. A few of them have moved to Rakhine state though and they can be visited by boat from Mrauk U. Today I joined a Spanish man and a Canadian girl on a boat trip to the remote villages.
We visited four villages in total. There is no road access and it took us about two hours to reach them by boat on the Lemro river. But even getting to the boat was an adventure. We had to drive for 40 minutes over the worst road I have seen by far. Apparently a lot of the road floods in the rainy season, so at times it was safer or more comfortable to drive next to the road than actually on it. It was a shaky ride for sure. The boat was super comfortable, with actual chairs with pillows in them and a cover for the sun. This morning it wasn’t necessary though. It was freezing, especially with the breeze on the boat. I crawled into my jacket, wishing I would shrink a bit so I could crawl in completely.
In the river we saw a lot of people in the water. They were grabbing rocks from the bottom of the river and throwing them into a boat. The bigger rocks are sold to companies that build roads. Sometimes they even go to Yangon or Sittwe. The smaller rocks are sold to companies that build houses. It is a bizarre sight to see all these people. At the first village we saw a big field with peanut plants. This is another source of income for the people from the villages.
The Chin tribes are mostly know for their tradition of tattooing the women’s faces. Only older women have tattoos on their face. It literally covers everything, from chin to eyelids and forehead. It must be such a painful procedure. According to our guide it takes three days to finish the whole face. The sad thing is that these women did not do it for fun. The intention was actually to make them look ugly. In the second world war the Japanese were in the area and raped and stole a lot of the women. The tribes started doing the tattoos so that the Japanese would stay away.
Nowadays girls don’t get tattooed anymore. Only a few of the older women still have the tattoos. Most of them are between 65 and 85. It was a bit of a bizarre experience. In many of the villages they put chairs down for us and a woman with tattoos would sit down with us. Occasionally the guide would talk to them in the Chin language. Then he would say ‘you can take photos’. But it felt strange. These women were put in front of us like they were some show horse. They look super interesting, but they didn’t look too happy to be photographed. Would you be if your face was intentionally made ugly? They also didn’t want to see the photos that were taken of them. In all the photos they have super serious faces, whereas they would laugh a lot when we were just interacting with them.
Even if the tattooed women hadn’t been there, it would have been an interesting experience. We walked through the villages and saw kids playing everywhere. Only the last village had a school. It was donated by some Italian organization and they were only too keen to let everyone know it. Literally everything in the school had ‘donated by’ written on it. There were also some Italian flags and a map of the country. Wow. One of the teachers came to talk to us. He seemed very passionate about the school and educating the children and teaching them English. Most of the children didn’t know the difference between hello and goodbye yet.
At the end of the day we drove to a hill to watch the sunset. It was very strange. The sun disappeared before it hit the horizon. It was almost as if fog covered it. It was a cool spot though. We looked out over the town and the temples on one side and the relatively flat plains on the other.