Dai Minority, an ancient ethnic group in Yunnan Province, China, is a relatively large and prosperous ethnic group with colorful cultures. Their distinctive clothing, their own language, their characteristic dance and songs give visitors a striking impressing. But, I want to talk about a mysterious and charming culture of Dai Minority –tattooing today.
There is an ancient proverb among the Dai ethnic group of Xishuangbanna, in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, “Frogs’ legs are decorated, men’s legs should be decorated if they want to be called men”.
A tattoo is called sangmen in Dai language and most local men have tattoos on their bodies. The Dai are proud of their beautiful tattoos – “the more the better” seems to be the motto. Men on the arms, legs, stomach, chest, and buttocks, and women generally on face, the backs of their hands, their arms or have a small dot tattooed between their eyebrows.
The origin of tattooing in the Dai culture stems from a legend. In ancient times, the Dai people moved along the rivers in search of their staple food. On one particular river, the Dai encountered a very hostile dragon that would attack anything with a dark yellowish. In an attempt to deceive this fierce dragon, the Dai painted their skin in the colors of the dragon. Unfortunately, when the Dai entered the river, the paint was washed off. A clever shaman figured out how to make the body paint permanent by applying the paint, then pricking the skin, and thus was born the practice of tattooing among the Dai people.
When to tattoo?
In old times, the Dai Children had designs pricked into their skin when they were 5 or 6, for it was said to be the best age. But later tattoos became a rite of passage and were given to both boys and girls at puberty, as a sign of maturity.
There are no fixed designs in Dai tattoo, most preferring character signs, Di letters, flowers and patterns of lion, tiger kylin, peacock or dragon designs drawn in black with black plant juice.
How to Tattoo?
- Firstly, drawing the relevant patterns on the skin with colored dye
- Then the patterns are pricked with a fine needle which will allow the dye to sink into the skin.
- After a period of time, the pattern is then permanent. The most propitious time of the year for tattooing is during the Dragon Boat Festival.
- The symbols of courage, boldness and bravery due to extremely painful process
- A sign of virility, masculinity and strength as well as a way to accentuate and draw attention to their muscles.
- A symbol of the of men and the beauty of women.
- As a function of protecting them from mythical creatures and against evil spirits, enhancing attractiveness, improving intelligence, curing disease etc。
However, with the development of technology and times, tattooing among the Dai has almost disappeared. I hope that all the Chinese distinctive arts and culture can be protected well and live forever.