The Apatani, or Tanii, are a tribal group of about 26,000 (approximately) in Ziro valley in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh India.
It was customary for women to have holes in the sides of the nose, which they closed with plugs. The nose plugs and tattoos were once intended to protect daughters and women. In the past, the tribe’s enemies, the Nisi, often abducted young Apatani girls. By mutilating their daughters, Apatani mothers hoped that the Nisi would lose interest.
The Apatanis used to practice facial tattooing and modification until the 1970s. The females used to have two sets of tattoos: one running from the forehead to the tip of the nose, and another set on the chin.
The Apatani tattooing procedure was a primitive and very painful process. Mothers would make incisions in their four-year-old daughters’ skin with a thorn and vigorously rub mustard oil and soot into the wounds. After this, they allowed the wounds to become infected so that the tattoos grew larger and clearer.
As in any other developing countries, teenagers have been influenced by Western culture, but the traditional lifestyles are still maintained.
The Apatani have incorporated many ways of the modern world, but the traditional culture and customs still retain their significance.
The images below were scanned from slides taken nine years ago on a trip through the Seven Sisters region of northeast India.