Wow, it has been a whirlwind of “on the road” work since June for me! I have been working at workshops, (one that I run), travels to India finishing up a personal project, living out of a car for a couple weeks covering Hurricane Florence and a bunch of guest speaking to include speaking to the Canadian military and NATO forces in Ottawa, Canada.
When I came home a week ago I had a beautiful email in my in box from a great mentor of mine congratulating me.
“Congratulations on this wonderful South by Southeast Director’s Award. You deserve it and much more. This honor is an appreciation of the very necessary and powerful work you deliver each time you go out to do your work. You have made a personal step forward to make a difference. It shows that a person can deliver truth and beauty when they lead with their heart and soul.” – Eli Reed, Magnum Photographer
I was scratching my head until I then looked further down in my emails and found the official confirmation from South x Southeast. I was truly overjoyed!!!!!
This was a project that I had worked on last fall in Far East India with a great friend of mine Russell Klika and was an amazing Army Combat Camera man during his time in service. Just to get to some of our locations during the trip it took two days by train, 16 hour bus rides and finally around six-eight hour car rides. Russell big thanks to our trip and introducing me to this amazing culture! As you know I would travel with you anywhere!!!
This has been an amazing project to work on that has truly enriched my life! I couldn’t have even come close to finishing up this without the help of my AMAZING writer Taylor Nam who works to bring my interviews, perspective and thoughts into a beautiful story. I continue to love working with her on our projects!
So this story To Be An Apatani Woman has made it into the top 20 in Pictures of the Year International and now this award. It has been frustrating trying to find a home/publication for this project in hopes of bringing more awareness and understanding into our complex world. I am happy to be sharing it with you and in this way! Thanks again to Nancy at South x Southeast for the honor and belief in my work. I hope you will all take the time to read the story that accompanies the images and by all means please share!!!!
To Be An Apatani Woman When the last tattooed Apatani woman of Arunachal Pradesh passes, the tribe will lay to rest one of the most significant parts of their history and culture–the coming-of-age ritual of nose plugging and facial tattooing, two practices that historically defined what it meant to be an Apatani woman. Up until 1974, young Apatani girls around the tender age of seven were forced to plug their noses with cane and tattoo their faces from hairline to nose and then across the chin using a tipe tere (local thorny plant). In this northeastern Indian state also known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun,’ nose plugs and face tattoos were much a part of the journey to womanhood as was finding a husband and starting a family. News organizations have reported in the past that these physical modifications were made so that enemy tribes wouldn’t steal the famously beautiful Apatani women during tribal disputes. However, an Apatani woman named Manu gave another reason for the tradition as it was taught to her years ago by her parents: “If you don’t have tattoos and nose plugs, no boys will be attracted to you. If you want to get married, you need these.” However, according to the locals of Ziro Valley, these practices were banned by the government in the 1970’s. Some of the Apatani women expressed their gratitude that the rituals have been banned; they do not want to see younger generations go through the physical pain of plugging one’s nose and tattooing one’s face. Other women disagreed. They see the ban as a suppression of their identity. In the words of Apatani, Lulyo, “I want the younger women to keep on the tradition, because God has given them some kind of sign that they must follow the culture.” Yet, even those who disagree with the ban seemed to have reached a sort of individual peace with the changing culture, expressing a trust in fate, destiny, God or organization to the way of life that goes beyond the physical world. The ban represents both the movement towards modernization as well as movement away from what has always been. For as long as history has been passed from generation to generation, to have the plugs and tattoos is to be Apatani. Now, going forward, these women must decide what marks them as being distinct from the surrounding tribes and, really, the rest of the world. Story written by: Taylor Nam
Punyo Pui, 80’s
Michi Yaji, 75-80
Michi Yaring, 75-80 Yaring was 14 yrs old when she had her nose done and was tattooed at 15 yrs old. When her mother started to tattoo her she screamed a lot and asked to wait until her father came home from the jungle. Yaring said, “five people including her father had to catch her and hold her down”. Although it was very painful, she would like the younger girls to take on the responsibility and continue the tradition.
Tilling Manu, 61 Manu was 3 yrs old when her ears were pierced, 7yrs old when she received her nose plug and tattooed at the age of 12 or 13. She didn’t want to get the tattoos because she heard it was painful. She ran and hid under the house with the pigs until her parents pulled her out and tied her hands and legs before performing the act. When asked now about her tattoos and nose plug Manu says, ” I am very proud to have them because it is our own culture. I want to have these because everybody knows that I am Apatani”.
Michi Modii, 60