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The Derung People: the Face Tattooed Tribal Women of China

Last Updated on 2022/05/28

20 rare images of the last tattooed tribal women of China

In the depth of the rainforest of 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 converting 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 prefectureYunnan, and in the mountains above the Nu River (Salween River), not far from Binzhongluo town.

Related articles: South of Clouds, a documentary about the ethnic minorities in Yunnan Province, History of Yunnan, Images And Meanings Of Chinese Tattoo Symbols

Featured image: A bull sacrifice (picture by Claire liy)

Face painting in China

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 neighboring countries, others that tattoos are made, so their souls 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.

History of the Derung People

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 the Nakhi people. They received their official name in 1949. Before they were known as Qiao, Qiu, or Qu. Prior to 1949, the year of the formation of the People’s Republic, 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 having 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.

Formerly, the women used to tattoo their faces when they reached the age of twelve or thirteen
Derung are one of the 56 ethnic minorities recognized by China
According to some, the tattoos of some women resembled masculine mustaches
Their faces are covered in elaborate black patterns in ink
The typical dress of the women consists of a dress made of fabric lined with colors black and white
derung_people_006-face painting China


Topic: Face painting in Asia,Dulong people,Drung people,face painting nujiang,Derung people,face painting pictures,face painting

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3 thoughts on “The Derung People: the Face Tattooed Tribal Women of China”

  1. The traditional costumes worn by ladies of Derung tribes is almost similar with the Karbi tribes of Karbi Anglong in North East India (population about 10 lakhs ). In Karbi dialect, we call Pekok. Earlier days, Karbi ladies too tattoo their face with the help of thorn and colouring plant called Sibu to make themselves look ugly from saving themselves against sexual advances of enemy (Myanmarese rulers) at that time.. It seems that both the tribes might belong to same ancestors.. Karbi tribes are also practice animist as religion and cannot marry among the same clans.. But unlike the Derung tribes, Karbi tribes have five clans called Tungjang or Timung, Hangjang or Terang, Lizang or Engti, Kronjang or Teron and Ejang or Enghi.. Each clans have many sub-clans or surnames..


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