Protection, worship, cure, decoration but also realization of a wish and an individual or clan demarcation this is what aims the tattoo in Burma.
Magic, disease prevention, ethnic assimilation or identity claiming stay the first objectives. To protect itself is the essential function of this art of the physical finery. The formidable Burmese warriors fought(disputed) the Indians, Thai and English people armed, among others, with tattoos which made them invincible.
The “x” tattooed, traditionally used to prevent snake bites, hijacks bullets. it would have helped the Burmese soldiers in the massacres of the Indians in 1930 and 1938. Even today Thai are afraid of this tattooed, wild and underequipped army.
On the contrary, the tattoo does not return the stronger but uglier women Chins! The motive, close to a cobweb, a subscriber from the childhood on the faces, had to discourage the kidnapping by the Burmese of these too beautiful women. The legend, which dates of one thousand years, does not naturally apply to all the clan tattoos. Most celebrate the virility, the courage of the tattooed or indicates its guardian spirits. The tattoo is the medicine of the body and the soul.
The introduction of the tattoo in the Burmese magic would go back to 2000 years before JC. Shans would have learnt the techniques of the tattoo in their place of origin, the South of China. They would then have transmitted them to the Burmese during their migration. The Burmese sublimated this art in their mystic and magic faith.
In a rather primitive society, the tattoo is a religious medicine – preventive and curative. He takes itself before any dangerous or uncertain adventure (get married, travel, to enlist …). We tell the history of this thief who threw the plunder of a pagoda: he was tattooed the image of the god Hipsay which, traditionally, stays up the criminals and of whom he incurred the good graces by reciting a mantra adapted to his works throughout the process of tattoo. A parrot on the shoulder, the carrier of chance, would not have is enough for the non-believer.
The spiritual doctor Shan, the sayah, gives potions, charms, exorcisms and tattoos. We often put in relation heavy losses, scarifications and tattoos in the sense of ancestral and ritual techniques of purification. The pain and the violence make intrinsic part of the rite of tattoo – clan, mystic or preventive. Because the tattoo is powerful and because it gives, by means of the shaman, powers, he hurts.
The association between tattoos, powers and spirits was quasi-absolved to the 50s. But the magic is not born that of the representation engraved in the skin. The ceremonial of the shaman, the attitude of the patient, the goodwill of the god interfere in the magic – the one who attributes the invincibility to the soldier, the invisibility to the monk, charity to the poor man, the cure to the sick person … The shaman incorporated into the skin of the latter, with the ink, the powder curing him of the evil. A pike of tattoo allows to punctuate the skin, thanks to a weight situated in the extremity (generally representing himself the magic spirit presiding over the tattoo). The powder came from a box medicine or of a statuette made up of magic materials, which, scratched by the pike of tattoo, skipped under the dermis. The preventive power emanates at the same time from the statuette, from the material with which it is established, of the tattoo and spirits were so called or were taken away by the power of the shaman. The ink and the weight depend on the mission devolved to the tattoo – where from the existence of collections, parabaïks, where the shaman recorded in a way his medical and mystic encyclopedia of tattoos. The role of the word, that of the spiritual doctor and that repeated by his patient, is essential. The tattooed image has an intrinsic strength but the magic and medical power results from the success of the completeness of the rite. The failure will be imputed, as usual at the Burmese, to the incapacity of the believer to please the guardian spirit (maybe will not it have made for him enough offerings? The day of the tattoo was it insufficiently favorable or done too close to celebrations of another god?), even in the choice of a spirit of which the expected power found skills of an other one.
Buddhism and animism get involved cheerfully; the shaman promulgates his prescriptions for the pagoda (which Buddha ask, with which mantra and which offerings), in the altar of nats and in that of the animistic amulets that he delivers often, only or jointly in the tattoo. These shaman statuettes always constitute a precious good. The spiritual doctor endowed the amulet of his magic function (luck, fertility, health) and with the appropriate worship. Among these figures of spirits, we find in a not exclusive way nats, these animistic déïtees (former kings and queens, mystic pious or animal characters), sanctified and got back by the Burmese Buddhism; there are 37 déïtés the first ones and the multiple additional divinities or the local variations. The most powerful amulets of tattoo so contained plant extracts collected on Mt-Popa. This extraordinary place of worship shelters the house of nats. The ceremony of Shinbyu, which marked formerly the passage in the adulthood, contains a rite of ” monstration of the nats ” and it was followed by a test(event) of “social” tattoo for the young man. A second phase of tattoo, magic and individual, took place a few years later. Today, if mixed Shinbyu still Buddhism and animistic folklore, it takes place with young boys and is any more bound in no rite of tattoo.The iconography,is identical: devils, nats, mythical animals (ex: kinnara, at the middle-human being the middle-bird), magic figures, cats for the skill, the Buddhist symbols etc. The Burmese pushed these faiths until carry(wear) representing sub-shirts the same representations.
The spirituality anismiste and the magic power of the charms and tattoos are a part of a mystic so profoundly anchored in the Burmese society as the XXIth century has not still totally triumphed over it. A nat the watches it.