The history of tattooing in Africa dates back thousands of years. Until Otzi the Iceman was discovered, the oldest known tattoos belonged to the mummy of Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor somewhere between 2160 BC -1994 BC. The designs found on her mummy, were believed to be symbols of fertility and rejuvenation.
Many men in West Africa undergo scaring or cicatrisation as a form of tribal initiation and bravery. This painful process begins for most young males at puberty and continues into adulthood. Scarification is done by lifting the skin a little, making a cut with a sharp tool such as a razor blade, thorn or anything with a sharp edge, and sand or ash is then rubbed into the cut to make the raised scar patterns anywhere on the body. The patterns followed are often local traditions which feel like braille lettering. Each tribe has unique designs, the man in the photo has patterns that identify his village and clan. He also has black magic symbols to help ward off evil spirits. These different designs often indicate social rank, traits of character, political status and religious authority.
For African women, scarification is most often associated with fertility. Scars added at puberty, after the birth of the first child, or following the end of breastfeeding, highlight the bravery of women in enduring the pain of childbirth. As if that wasn’t enough! Scars on other areas of the body such as the hips and buttocks, accentuate the erotic and sensual aspects of the female body.
Children are also included in this tradition of scarification when they reach different stages of their lives such as weaning from their mothers breast. Here in North America most tattoo artists will not tattoo anyone under the age of 18 without a parents present, however there are those who do.
In the past I have always added a video to my tattoo posts to really show the style of tattooing, this one will be no exception. However some of you might find this video graphic because of the nature of the topic. I specifically chose this one because it was filmed by National Geographic, which I grew up watching. Keep in mind as you are viewing this video that this tradition or ritual makes these individuals feel accepted by their community. Although I don’t agree with it when it involves a small child it could be compared to circumcision in North America. Technically there is no reason for either tradition or ritual. I look at these differences as educational. We are all connected as human beings regardless of our culture. I accept everyone for who they are and what they believe. It makes the world in which we live diverse in every way. This video is not for everyone. There is some blood and a quick clip of a child who is undergoing scarification.
Here are some African Symbols with their meanings ~
Warning ~This video has some graphic content!!
I think my next tattoo will be the African Adinkra Symbol ‘Sankofa’ “return and get it” the symbol of importance of learning from the past.