In the depth of the rain forest of the southwest China, along the border with Myanmar, there is a quite mysterious ethnic minority group, the Derung people (Derung, Dulong, 独龙族).
With a population of 5000-7000, they still follow their ancient custom and religious belief, despite a small number of them converted to Christianity when the French missionary expeditions arrived in the region during the 19th and 20th centuries. They live in the Derung Valley, in the Nujiang prefecture, Yunnan and in the mountains above the Nu River (Salween River), not far from Binzhongluo town.
Face painting, the practice of the application of tattoos to a person's face, is limited to women. They receive their tattoo around the age of 12. Some say the reason behind this practice is to make their women less attractive so that they were less likely to be taken in as slaves by neighbouring countries, others that tattoos are made so their soul will be recognized after death. The face painting custom is shared with the Muun, Magan and Chin tribes in Myanmar. According to a Burmese legend, an ancient king tried to make slaves of the women and the inkings were intended to repel incomers. Then they became also a symbol of beauty.
Not much is known about these people. During the Tang Dynasty, the Derung were ruled by Nanzhao and the Dali Kingdom. Later, during the Yuan dynasty and Qing Dynasty they were governed by Nakhi people. They received their official name in 1949. Before they were known as Qiao, Qiu or Qu. Prior 1949, the year of the formation of the People's Repubblic, Derung society was based on a system of 15 clans, called "nile", formed by diverse familiar communities. They believe in their animist native religion, despite some have converted to Christianity. In fact, during the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous missionary expeditions were organized in the region. The shaman is a very important figure inside the Derung society since they give great importance to rituals.