Lawa Piheg, the last woman in the Atayal indigenous tribe with their traditional facial tattoos, died Saturday at the age of 97 in Miaoli County, according to local councilor Yuma Baisu.
Lawa was tattooed on her cheek and forehead when she was eight years old, although the custom had already been banned in Taiwan under Japanese rule.
She was featured in the 2018 documentary "The Marks of Honor - Atayal Facial Tattoos," giving the oral history of the tribe's tradition.
"You young people know how to write, (you) must document (the Atayal) culture with words. Don't forget (to do so)," Lawa said during an interview for the documentary, according to Chiang Yi-hsiung (蔣意雄), director of Miaoli County Government's Center for Indigenous Peoples, the unit that implemented the project.
During the interview, Lawa also said she wanted people to remember the facial tattoo tradition but did not wish to see her descendants get them because the process was too painful, according to Chiang.
All Lawa wanted was for people to remember face tattooing as part of Atayal culture, said Chiang.
Among the Atayal, only women with weaving skills were tattooed on the face, according to Baisu, who is also a member of the Atayal tribe.
Face tattooing was symbolic of heroic diligence and individual skills in Atayal culture and also served as a form of ethnic identification, according to the Ministry of Culture.
In addition, the Atayal tribe believed that the facial tattoos would allow the spirits of their ancestors to identify them in the afterworld and guide them across the rainbow bridge, which is the path to heaven, the ministry said.
Ipay Wilang, 98, from another aboriginal tribe called the Seediq, is now the last known person in Taiwan with traditional facial tattoos.