One of last Atayal women left with facial tattoo dies at age 103

Iwan Kainu, one of the last Atayal aborigines in Taiwan left to have a traditional facial tattoo died at the age of 103


Iwan Kainu. (Photo by Tobie Openshaw)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Iwan Kainu (簡玉英, Chien Yu-ying), one of the last members of the Taiwanese indigenous Atayal (泰雅) tribe to have a facial tattoo and a national treasure, died yesterday morning from complications from the flu at the age of 103, reported UDN.  

Kainu was one six known surviving members of the Atayal tribe who retained the traditional facial tattoo symbolizing their achievement of womanhood after mastering the skill of weaving. Men were expected to capture the head of at least one enemy tribe member to earn the right to receive their distinctive tattoo and thus achieve manhood.

Facial tattoos for both genders were banned under Japanese rule, and thus the tradition ended, never to be revived. 

The Miaoli Country government has registered the facial tattoo tradition as an intangible cultural asset. Kainu's fame has spread far and wide with Polish photographer Adam Kozioł seeking out her to be part of his project to capture images of indigenous peoples around the world on Oct. 15 of last year.

South African photographer and documentary film-maker, Tobie Openshaw helped coordinate the shoot and took some photographs of Kainu as well, which can be seen below:

(Photo by Tobie Openshaw)

(Photo by Tobie Openshaw)

(Photo by Tobie Openshaw)

During the shoot, Kainu described the tattoo process as being extremely painful, so much so, that it had to be broken into two separate sessions to allow time for healing. 

The Miaoli County government tourism bureau will make arrangements for Kainu to receive a Catholic funeral Jan. 23.