By Mark McConville
THESE tribeswomen wear huge nose plugs in an attempt make themselves so ugly neighbouring tribes would be put off from kidnapping them.
Unusual pictures show how the women of the Apa Tani tribe wear wooden plugs in the fleshy, upper parts of their nostrils and have facial tattoos in an effort to become so undesirable the raiding parties would no longer want them.
The unusual practice can only be seen on women over the age of forty as the Indian government have since outlawed it. Younger women are pictured without any disfigurements.
The striking images were taken of the Apa Tani tribe in India by British photographer Pete Oxford (58), from Torquay.
“The first sighting of the nose-plugs, although expected, was still shocking,” he said.
“It surprised me however how quickly I became totally used to seeing them and looked past the wooden disks to the woman wearing them, forty-plus but still with a very human sparkle in her eye made her far from ugly.
“Indeed, the host of our homestay had nose plugs and we sat every morning with her around the fire for breakfast. Very soon I failed to notice that she had them.”
Mr Oxford explained why the tribeswomen disfigured themselves in this way and how their traditional culture was still very much prevalent today.
“I was told that nearly every woman over the age of forty was disfigured in this way,” he added.
“The practice stems from the days, up until the mid-70s when neighbouring tribes would raid villages and steal the Apa Tani women.
“It was decided, by the men apparently, that large nose plugs, of the so-called ‘pig-nosed women’, would render the women so ugly that the raiding parties would no longer want to steal them.
“The culture of the Apa Tani people was still very much deeply engrained in their everyday beliefs. Shamanism was widely practiced and at every house there was a sacrificial altar where chickens or eggs are sacrificed to bring luck and to cure ills.”
The Apa Tani still adhered to their traditional way of life and did not encounter many foreigners, as Mr Oxford found out.
“There were also, larger communal sacrificial sites on the edges of the villages where desires of bigger things were asked of the spirits,” he said.
“The villages were crowded and houses densely packed side by side. The central fire was omnipresent and we sat often around one drinking a welcome cup of tea offered by our Apa Tani host.
“Every household had its cats and chickens while the dogs, which were more’ outdoorsy’ decorated the steps and sidewalk.
“If a dog gave birth to a big litter the solution was easy. Grow up one or two as pets and eat the rest when plump enough.
“Everywhere we went kids would shout ‘Foreigner’ to us, not in a nasty way at all, but simply as an excited exclamation.
“It was true that in the land of the Apa Tani we were the strange ones.”