Stealing Beauty: The Apatani
The Apatani are a tribe living in India’s fertile and flat Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh. Historically revered for their beauty, young Apatani women were often kidnapped by the warriors of the neighbouring Nishi tribes. As a defence against the poaching of their women, Apatani girls were deliberately defaced at the time of puberty with facial tattoos (tiipe) and bamboo nose plugs (dat). A painful and bloody process, the tattoo was achieved by using thorns to apply soot under the skin. Nose plugs were fitted into holes cut into the upper nostrils. The tradition stuck and over generations eventually lost it's original meaning of ugliness and came to represent courage, beauty and strength.
With increased contact to the outside world, the struggle between tradition and modernity has placed Apatani culture under threat of being absorbed by surrounding groups. Apatani language, the backbone of culture and identity, has been listed by UNESCO as a ‘definitely endangered’ language and one that is likely to become extinct within the next generations. Under this pressure to assimilate, the practice of nose plugs and facial tattooing has also been discontinued. Currently there remain only a handful of women adorning these marks of beauty. The tradition will die with them.