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Celebrating the Unique Makeup of These Muslim Refugees in Bangladesh

Some young Rohingya refugees – currently living in a camp in southern Bangladesh – are maintaining a strong connection to their roots, by applying traditional makeup.

Swirling and straight lines of yellow paste, a traditional sun protection – called ‘thanaka’ – which dates back centuries is applied to the faces of the refugees who argue that continuing this ancient practice makes them feel more at home.

Now a Dublin-based photo journalist from Reuters, Clodagh Kilcoyne, has created a series of portraits of girls and women continuing the tradition of wearing this eye-catching makeup.

Thanaka paste is commonly used in Asia for its medicinal properties, but it’s also used in some cultures as makeup because of its dazzling colour. It’s made from the bark of thanaka trees, which grow in the humid climate of central Myanmar. Culturally a valuable commodity, the bark is ground down into a milky paste which is known as kyauk pyin.

According to the United Nations, around 800,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar to avoid torture and death, at the hands of the Myanmar army, in their homeland. There is a long history of conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. When the refugees apply the paste to their face, it allows them to maintain a piece of their culture amid the chaos they have found themselves in.

By all accounts, the makeup allows them to still feel connected to their heritage, despite being physically removed from their homeland and often family and friends. Not only that, but it also protects their skin from the strong sun, annoying insects that are fond of sucking human blood and prevents acne. Seems like a win-win-win to us.

To see more work from Clodagh Kilcoyne, check out her website by clicking here.

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