Asian Ethnology is dedicated to the promotion of scholarly research on the peoples and cultures of Asia. It began in China as Folklore Studies in 1942 and later moved to Japan where its name was changed to Asian Folklore Studies. It is edited and published at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, with the cooperation of Boston University.
Included in this Issue
This article examines the tradition of facial tattooing among Drung women in Yunnan province, China. Now obsolete, the practice of female tattooing—by puncturing the skin, causing bleeding and pain—used to enable and mark the social and physiological time of the transition to nubility, thus preparing women for their fertile becoming. The analysis focuses on the gradual, quasi-initiatory transition to womanhood established by tattoos, both during girls’ playful trial tattoo sessions or on the occasion of the formal execution of the facial tattoo by a fully experienced woman. The article shows that tattooing should be understood as a processual construction of womanhood that builds on preparatory play and is inseparable from the specific relationships between women involving fertility, which is transmitted, “revealed,” and represented by tattooing. Passed down exclusively by women, regardless of their relationships of consanguinity or affinity, tattooing exposes a form of transversal relatedness beyond any descent and alliance relationships. The embodiment of this mystical influence is vital if a woman is to be assigned her destiny, her social role as perpetuator of life.
The Baltis mostly inhabit a region at the western edge of the Himalayas, also known as Baltistan. Today, Baltistan is considered to be a geographic and geopolitical border region; it is administered predominantly by Pakistan and claimed as a whole by India. Moreover, the Balti language is associated with a third entity, Tibet, while the fact that Baltis identify as Muslims, the majority Shiites, and hence consider Iran a friendly state, adds another dimension to the intricacy of their multiple belongings. Drawing on research in Baltistan in 2014 and 2017, particularly qualitative interviews with Baltis of various backgrounds, this article will show that the current endeavors to standardize a script—a variant of the Perso-Arabic, Tibetan, or Roman scripts—for the currently only sparsely written Balti language illustrate the struggle of identity formation and nation-building among Baltis during the early twenty-first century.
Jiangyong “Women’s Script” in the Era of ICH
The Chinese ICH (intangible cultural heritage) program has created the conditions for the invention of a new phase within the well-known “Women’s Script” tradition in Jiangyong County, Hunan. Driven by ICH recognition and promotion, Jiangyong locals have formed twin channels of inheritance practice: official inheritors and natural transmitters. With the popularization of the official inheritance practice among the local communities, the concept of “Women’s Script cultural identity” has formed. However, there is a paradox between the emerging invented tradition via ICH and the traditional, natural Women’s Script tradition (yuanshengtai), “discovered” by academics in the 1980s, which is based on a gendered form of script used in writing diaries, letters, and a few examples of folk literature, and which is also a basis for chanting in small groups of women. To a great extent the new form has transformed the performance mode and the core elements, while the cultural “inheritors,” comprised of new “faces of tradition,” are increasingly concerned with how Women’s Script culture can bring them more benefits than the earlier forms of the tradition. In the future, it appears that local governments and entrepreneurs will continue to utilize ICH as a means to garner attention and influence in the ICH cultural marketplace in China, as well as to generate revenue from tourism, museum shops, and so on that will in turn support the coalescence of a new, full-bodied tradition.