Notes on Culture & Antique Art, Ethnic Decor & Vintage Fashion | Wovensouls Art Gallery

Tribal Signatures – Face Tattoos of the Apatani tribe

The lifestyle of Apatani hilltribe of Arunachal Pradesh fascinates a cultural traveller on several aspects. But the one that hit me with the greatest intensity are the 2 tribal signatures of the tribe : face tattoos & nose plugs.

Getting a first glimpse of these on the internet created a desire to go and see them in person.  And so I set out on this logistically challenging trip in December to satisfy the frenzy created in my head with all the readings.

I expected that seeing them and experiencing a spectrum of their lifestyle would quench my curiosity. But instead, it fuelled it. The reason for this unexpected reaction is the stark truth that was revealed as I spoke with the Apatanis – that their unique traditions are breathing their last breath.

Legend has it that the women of this tribe used to be kidnapped by neighbouring tribes because of their beauty. To prevent this the tribe began to tattoo the faces of the girls and put on nose plugs – either to repel or to brand their own young girls.

This practice was abolished after soon after India’s independence when the government provided security against kidnappings. As a result, no more faces have tattooed for the past 30 – 35 years.The youngest tattooed face I saw was about 45.

The next generation of the world, therefore, will see a rainbow of human diversity that will be missing one color – a very unique and intense color.

And the only glimpses available to the future will be through the few photographs taken since the camera was invented!

Here I present a few:

Face tattoo of an Apatani tribal woman from Arunachal Pradesh

Nose plugs of the Apatani Tribe – one more tribal signature

A village headman with a tattoo on his chin

The elegant and gorgeous Apatani woman with her signature beads

A photo-lifescape of the Apatani tribe will follow soon…

The images above are a small preview of the Hi-res full size images available on my photography website

My other articles on Arunachal Pradesh are linked below:

Glimpses of a contented People


 Innovative housing

 A chance encounter with a Shaman Priest during a sacrifice ritual

The Gaanv Boodhas or Village Headmen of Arunachal Pradesh

Fierce Nocte Headhunters

Head Hunting Trophies


Jan 2012


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