Explore the tattoo culture of Li ethnic people in Hainan

Updated: 05 Mar 2015
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While modern Chinese increasingly deem tattoos as expressions of individuality, some have since ancient times revered them as identifiers of ethnic belonging.
 
 
In Hainan, tattooing has a long standing tradition among the Li ethnic people. In the past, as the Li people worshipped totems, nature and their ancestors, all the Li tribes were tattooed and the practice was more common among women, although the men have been known to have three blue circular rings tattooed on their wrists for medicinal purposes.
 
 
 
The art of tattooing among the Li is seen as a rite of passage into maturity and adulthood. When a Li girl reached the ages of 12 to 16, an old women, who was not necessarily a relative, first tattooed her on the nape of the neck, throat and face. This process would take about four or five days.
 
 
 
To draw the tattoos, an old woman would dip a tree slip into sooty water and draw on the girl's face, then beat a thorn into the skin with a small stick in the designated area, and fill the pricked spots with soot. When scabs formed, a dark blue design was left on the face.
 
Over the next three years, the girl would then have her arms and legs tattooed. Her hands were not tattooed. Among the Li people, only married women could have their hands tattooed, it was not appropriate for single women to wear them.
 
 
The tattoos not only made Li women sexually objectionable to other tribes but also allowed them to be recognized by their ancestors after death.
 
In addition, Li tattoos differed greatly among the different Li tribes and could be easily used to differentiate between a woman of one tribe and another.
 
 
Today, the traditional tattoos are now only worn on the bodies of a few elderly women in a handful of villages such as Binglanggu Valley in Baoting. Yet as these enduring fragments remain, they allow us to partially glimpse an indelible past shaped not by one hand but by many over successive generations of cultural practice that at one time connected ritual, myth, and nature from which Li tattoo culture ultimately sprang.
 
SOURCE: WOS Team
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Comments Area ( Total Comments: 9 )
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Tattoo culture has been prevalent in China before man has started to learn. Such is the ethnic history of the culture; moreover, in bestdissertation it is written that it is customary for the people to have tattoos. It is unfortunate that the definition of tattoos have changed a lot due to advancements in civilization. But, there is a great depth to them in the ancient Chinese culture.
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