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Documentary Photography: The last of the Spider Women

The last of the Spider Women

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

In June 2018 a small group of us took a 3 hour (one way) Journey on the Laymro River from Mrauk U to a remote Chin Village in the Chin State.
Located in the southern part of northwestern Burma (Myanmar), bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, Rakhine State to the south, and Magwe and Sagaing Divisions
to the East.

It is here were only a handful of older women proudly display their facial tattoos and called the "Spider Women"  we discovered there were only six of them left in the area.
A dying tradition and the practice is now not allowed by the Burmese authorities hence the reason this part of Chin culture is dying out fast.

We arrived in Myanmar at the onset of the Monsoon season (my favorite time for travel) and the Laymro River was already running fast which made our journey to this remote region even more exciting. Providing us photo opportunities seldom seen in this part of Myanmar, lush green vegetation and the occasional storm made this trip an unforgettable one.

It was very visible once we arrived and climbed the steep river bank towards the village that heavy rain had past through the area recently, it looked like a small river had run through part of the village, but luck was on our side that day and the sun blessed us now and then.
We were welcomed by the village chief and after a while we got introduced to six charming old ladies who's age varied from approx. 68 to 80 plus years old, non of them knew for sure their exact age.

There was another "Spider Women "but she was bedridden and could not greet us, so in total there were only seven women left in the village wearing their spider design tattoo. 

Wow… what a sight, detailed tattoos over their faces and even the eyelids had been covered which must have been a painful experience at the age of nine when the Tattoos had been done.

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

The women told us how they were tattooed and how it was an old ancient custom to do so, prevent invaders from taking away the local women, well so goes one story. 

But when we talked to the man and ask them how they felt like it, and been married to a women who's face was tattooed they replied proudly with a smile and said…
we adore it and like it very much.

Another ancient Chin legend has it that when a Burmese king travelled to the region, he was so impressed by the women’s beauty that he kidnapped one to take as a bride.

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The Chin "Spider Women" Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The start of our Journey in Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

2018 © Gunther Deichmann
The remote Chin Village and the erosion from recent Monsoon Rains, Myanmar

GDeichmann_Myanmar_Laymro River1540056
2018 © Gunther Deichmann
Our Journey on the Laymro River, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Amazing stories and we would have been lost without our great local guide who spoke the local language and kept busy translating for us non stop.

But what ever the story maybe, all of us felt very privileged to be with these wonderful people and once this generation is gone so will be their ancient culture and tradition.

It is worthwhile noting that different tribes in northwestern Myanmar have used tattoos to distinguish one hill tribe from another or indicate their martial status and social rank. People can tell where a Chin woman is from by the design of the facial tattoos.
Not all of them have this particular spider web design,
it was only in this village, hence the reason these women are called the "The last of the spider women."

Documentary Photography: Gloves and Handbags, the beauty and the beast

The beauty and the beast…next time you put on your gloves or wearing your handbag,
think about how it got to this beautiful nice and shiny stage.…

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Not at all that glamorous when you look behind the scenes in the production
of high end leather products.

It looks all very different in the beginning; these products are not that glamorous and shinny, they require hard work, produced under harsh and extremely smelly conditions.
It was during one of my recent visits to India that I managed to get access to some Leather Tannery’s near Kolkata and getting access was not an easy task.
The main production of these Tannery’s is for leather gloves and handbags destined for the European Market.

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Unloading the huge wooden drums, Leather Tannery, India

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Preparing the Hides for the next process, India

Upon entering the first Tannery the smell was absolute out of this world and it was extremely difficult getting used to it not to mention the place was dark like a dungeon.

Trying to keep a low profile I only tagged along one camera body and two lenses besides flash/strobe was not allowed anyway. No choice I had to crank up the ISO at times to 1600 on my Lumix GX8 and worked mostly with the fast 20mm1.4mm (equip. 40mm) and my trusted 12 to 35 mm f: 2.8 (equiv. 24 to 70mm) lens.

Workers tend to the huge wooden drums where the row hides tumble in a bluish bath of chromium sulfate and other chemicals. This chemical mix spills all over the floors and the walls, exposing also the workers.

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Squeezing the hides using old machineries, India

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Spraying a chemical mixture, a type of repellant on to the Hides, India

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Barefoot… water and chemicals, India

In some other areas man spraying a chemical mixture, a type off repellant on to the hides, or squeezing the hides through old machines.
Without going into a more detailed description of the whole process the hides once dried (normally on the flat rooftop) they are sorted and made ready for shipment for the final production for many types of leather products. Workers carrying some 75 kg on their back unloading the Rawhide or the tanned finished leather sheets.

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Carrying 75kg of processed Hides, India

After leaving the Tannery Complex we ventured to an area where the leftover leather pieces are cooked/boiled in very large stone basins and once this process is completed it will be mixed with soil and used as an organic fertilizer.

2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Boiling the leftovers near the Tannery, India

How many chemicals remain after this process is a good question; I am not convinced it is all clean after all the boiling
but in the process also
toxic smoke billows into the air, polluting our environment.
The small stream near this area certainly did not look inviting for a swim, I wouldn’t dare to stick my toe into it either.

I shall continue my quest and search for the production of beauty products and the impact it has on our environment.

More Images from the Tannery in India at my PhotoShelter Archives