In ancient times in the Ao villages, unmarried girls would sleep in the spinster’s house at night.  Girls from both rich and poor families would meet each other and mix there and they would tell stories and laugh together and spend the night there with the old lady.  Amongst the group there was this rich girl and there was also a girl from a poor family who was intelligent, beautiful and popular with many of the other girls.  The rich girl grew quite envious of the poor girl and she disliked her.  During the evenings the rich girl would make fun of the poor girl saying things like, “You cannot even laugh loudly, you are so weak.  You from a poor family, what do you get to eat?  Even when you speak, it sounds as if you haven’t had enough to eat”.  She made fun of her because she was beautiful and popular.

The poor girl happened to be the child of a single parent and as her father was dead, she lived alone with her mother.  In the morning when the daughter returned home from the spinster’s house “dzüki” we call it, she would complain to her mother about the rich girl’s cruel taunts.  “Just wait! Relax! Mum is going to make sure you are not insulted like that again.  Mother is going to fix you up!” Her mother promised.

This went on for sometime until one day when the girl returned in the morning as usual her mother said to her, “For the next week you are not to go out”.  “Why? What is your plan? Asked the daughter.   “I have thought of something” replied her mother.  She then went and brought something to her bedside, calling her daughter to come over and sit on the bed with her.  The mother made her daughter stretch her legs out on the bed and then she took some black stuff from a can and started applying it to her daughter’s legs.  “The daughter cried out, “Ma!  Its painful!” and she tried to get away, but the mother said, “Wait, wait, wait, you wont regret it!  You must bear this pain for a little while but then people are going to admire you and you won’t feel insulted anymore.” “Alright mum, I know you are not going to do me any harm, I know you are going to do the best for me because  you have always loved me”, and replied the girl, remaining calm while her mother finished the work on her legs.  It was rather like hammering.  We are not quite sure what she did but it was quite painful.  Finally mother said, “Look, now it is done.  Look at your legs, look how nice it looks. It is sure to be a success so you must not go out until it is healed  You will feel pain for a while and I will only allow you to go out in about a week’s time.  The girl looked at her feet and she saw black spots and that her legs had also gone red because of the painful thing her mother had done with something that may have been a needle – she had used a sharp, sharp thing to make those black marks. “Its painful and it is red, but as you said it will be healed soon, I am happy”, said the girl.  The mother bandaged up the girl’s legs with cloth and helped her to climb into the loft where things are usually stored in a traditional Naga house, telling her not to come down until she was instructed to do so.  After a couple of days the girls friends came to the house to enquire about her because they were missing her jovial company and they wanted to know how she was.  “She has gone out for a short trip but she will be back soon”, the girl’s mother told them.  “We really miss her”, repeated the girls.  Even the daughter from the rich family showed concern, and the mother said to herself, “you are really going to like her when she comes back”.  The mother was eager to keep it a secret.  She fed her daughter every day and imagined the envy that she would get from the other girls.  After a week she told her daughter to remove the bandages from her legs and have a look at them.  The girl looked at her legs and exclaimed, “Mum, they are looking beautiful!”.  “I feel certain it was a success!” Exclaimed the mother and she helped her daughter down from the loft.  She saw that the girl’s legs were healed and the marks had set and the legs were looking beautiful – black, black, black marks.  After that it was time for the girl to visit the “dzüki” in the evening.  Mother gave her a new shawl and the girl set out to meet her friends at the spinster’s house were the Ao girls slept in those days.  There was no electricity then, only the light from the fire, so her companions did not see her legs at first.  They were so happy and they exclaimed, “Our friend has come back at last!”, they were all very excited to see her.  They gathered around the fire and started to discuss things and tell stories in the firelight. The poor girl wanted to show off her tattoos, so she took up a position close to the fire and sat with her legs forward.  Everyone suddenly saw the marks and exclaimed, “Why, what is this?  It is looking beautiful!  What did you do?  That is why you went away, how did you get it.?”  “I don’t know”, said the poor girl as she wanted to keep it a secret.  The rich girl especially wanted to know where she had got it from and the tattoos were all they could talk about that evening.

The next day the whole village saw the new tattoos and they all admired them and talked about the girl’s beauty.  Everyone went crazy over her, the boys too.  The rich girl was furious and envious and she was determined to know the secret.  By now all the villagers were offering all kinds of things to have their daughters tattooed too and the mother could not say no, so  she started tattooing their legs and this is how it started.  It began with legs but the tattoos spread to the chin and cheeks.  You know we have Monsen and Chungli in the Ao community.  This story I am telling you is in Monsen language.  Anyway, from that day on the villages started tattooing different patterns of tattoos for the different clans.  It would be easy to see a Monsen girl from a Chungli girl by the patterns of their tattoos.  The boys found it helpful too, in distinguishing the girls they admired and tattooing became very popular.  It all began from that time when the mother of the poor girl used her creativity to bring admiration for her daughter which goes to show that you can be creative even if you are not rich.

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