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Documentary Photography: The last of the Spider Women

The last of the Spider Women


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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.

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

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


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

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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.

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

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

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


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


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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."
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