Traditional tattoos in Myanmar are all the rage

24 January 2016
Traditional tattoos in Myanmar are all the rage
Photo: Thet Ko/Mizzima

Myanmar's emergence from decades of cloistered junta rule has seen a cascade of foreign products flood the country in recent years. But it has also allowed for the revival of ancient fashions, like tattoos.
With the country's borders opened up and web censorship laws dismantled, young people in Myanmar are being exposed to foreign trends on a wide scale, and a host of new counter-cultures are emerging. 
Yet a buzzing workshop on traditional tattooing in Yangon Saturday suggests that when it comes to body art, it's the local designs that are back in vogue.
"Our traditional style of tattooing has disappeared so we are bringing back the Myanmar style," said Tut P, 37, a professional tattoo artist from Mandalay who helped organise the Myanmar Traditional Ink Workshop.
There's a long history of inking up in Myanmar, where the country's myriad ethnic minority groups donned tattoos as spiritual protection, signs of social status and antidotes to ward off disease. 
But the traditional practice was suppressed under British colonial rule and became taboo under the oppressive military junta that followed for nearly five decades.
Now tattoo artists are reviving historic images and patterns using modern tattoo guns, which are considered safer than traditional tools.
"Another difference today is that young people are choosing their own designs," said Maung Thi, 25, a tattoo artist who joined the trade six years ago. 
"Youths nowadays are choosing meaningful tattoos," he told AFP. "Their ideas are much better, I would say."
Yadanar Thun Phyo, 20, for instance, drew her own version of a mystical Myanmar bird, which she had inked on her leg at the workshop. 
Though tattoos are still far more popular among men than women, she suggested that too may be changing.
"Many people think that having a tattoo makes you more beautiful," she said.