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Number of people in Taiwan with indigenous tattoo decreases to just 2

A Taiwanese woman with an indigenous tattoo is seen in Miaoli County, Taiwan, on April 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

MIAOLI COUNTY, Taiwan -- The number of people in Taiwan possessing a facial tattoo that indigenous people used as a symbol representing adulthood has decreased to just two, sparking fears that the marking is on the verge of extinction.

    "It's sad that there's only two of us left," laments Ke Julan, a 94-year-old Miaoli County resident who still has the tattoo -- recognized as an intangible cultural heritage -- across her face.

    In response to the tattoo's near-extinction, the Taiwanese Cabinet is pressing ahead with attempts to preserve the culture relating to the historical marking, using photographic and video footage.

    According to the Cabinet, the tradition of tattooing one's face was passed down by the Seediq people and the Tayal people, based in the northern part of Taiwan. Men were permitted to get the marking as a testament to hunting proficiency, while women could get the tattoo to indicate excellence at sewing. The men typically had the tattoo marked on their foreheads and lips, while the women would have it on both cheeks and foreheads.

    Between 1895 and 1945, when Taiwan was ruled by Japan, the tattoos were banned. By the 1940s, the practice of people getting new tattoos apparently stopped.

    Ke Julan was educated in Japanese. Upon visiting her home, she greeted the Mainichi Shimbun in Japanese, while wearing some splendid indigenous clothing that she wove herself.

    At the age of 18, Ke Julan married a Japanese man. However, he went off to war immediately after the wedding, and Ke Julan was told about five years later that he had died in combat.

    She later married a Tayal person, and they had a daughter together. Reflecting on her facial tattoo, Ke Julan says, "I spent a whole day getting it done when I was 18. I cried because of the pain, but you couldn't get married unless you got (tattoos)."

    Ke Julan now lives with her grandchildren. "I'm happy when I can eat plenty of food," she said.

    (Japanese original by Shizuya Fukuoka, Taipei Bureau)

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