Manipuri youth attempts to revive dying tribal tattoo art

Guwahati: Tattooing the face, maybe a style fad today, but for certain tribal and indigenous people in the far North East of the country, such tattoos have been a integral way of life for ages.

And now, a 27-year-old Naga youth from Manipur is working to revive and give a new form to the traditional tattooing art of the  tribal communities.

Moranngam Khaling, better known as Mo Naga, has just started the first ever official tattoo training institute – in North-East India.

"My main intention for the school in to revive the art of the head-hunters. The main aim is to revive the art, the facial tattoo art of head-hunters. Just because people now do not do it does not mean that the art cannot be used anywhere," says Mo.

In the olden days taking a head was believed to increase the fertility of the crops and the more number of heads a warrior took the more the number of tattoos he sported. Today, of course, the practise is no longer in vogue.

"I want to combine old school art, the art of the Japanese, the native Americans, the Maoris, and others with Naga and tribal tattoo art forms of the North East," Mo told PTI here.

A graduate of National Institute of Fashion Technology, Mo, has been running a tattoo parlour in New Delhi since the year 2008.

"Guwahati being the centre of the North East and the biggest city in this region. The school is not only for Assam but for the entire North East," he says.

A qualified fashion designer, Mo believes that the need to uphold the dying tribal tattoo art from different regions of India is paramount.

"I will be based in Guwahati but I will keep visiting Delhi frequently because my clientele are based there. One of the associates would handle the Delhi studio in my absence," says Mo.

He said that the tattoo industry is booming in India. "North East should also be a part of this welcome change. Though tattoos have emerged as a fashion craze amongst youngsters, for most people a tattoo is something deeper, much more personal and meaningful unlike the clothes or the makeup we wear," says Mo.

he designer says he believes that "having or getting a tattoo is the most overwhelming experience where art, fashion and design come together in the most meaningful ways for an individual."
Mo was invited to be a part of India's biggest tattoo convention 'Tattoo Republic' held in Pune last November.

"I have always been fascinated by art and design and its the reason why I went to NIFT. When I got there I realised that it was not fashion that I am looking for but rather design," admits Mo.

The 27-year-old says he got interested in tattoos around 2004 when he met a tattoo artist in Hyderabad and saw him practising his art.

"I was fascinated that you could do such creative work on the skin. When I saw others working on tattoo, I realised that I could do much better than them. It started as a hobby, as a curiosity," says Mo.

Naga and tribal art goes back in time with communities inking their face and body according to customs.

"The Naga and tribal art is very ancient. But the western market has overtaken us, with motifs of pirates and eagle. the west which Mo says has overtaken the market."

"The tradition of head-hunters have been passed down through generations and every motif is attached to the headhunting culture. I want to convert the traditional art work and present it in a modern package," says Mo.

Besides the institute, Mo has also set up a studio in Guwahati.
"There students can have practical experience. I do not believe just in theory. If necessary will invite international artists," he says pointing out that he plans to have branches in other states of the North East too soon.

Regarding concerns of hygiene, the tattoo artist says all items varying from needles to ink cups etc, used by professional artists are of disposable variety.

Most clients who come to him, says Mo, are in the age group of over 30 years. "It is changing. The mindset of people about tattooing is changing," says Mo.