The origins of tattoo culture in Africa
Other African body altering traditions involve extreme forms of body piercing
The origin of the word ‘tattoo’ is believed to have two major derivations; the first is from the Polynesian word "ta" which means striking something and the second is the Tahitian word "tatau" which means ‘to mark something’.
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Tattooing in Africa
The first evidence of tattoos leads back to the mummies in Egypt. The oldest tattoo was found on the mummy of Amunet, a priestess of the Goddess Hathor, during 2160-1994 BC. The mummy’s simple tattoos were parallel lines on her arms, legs, and an elliptical pattern below her navel. Interestingly, no male mummies found in Egypt had their body adorned with tattoos. Egyptologists, today, are of the opinion that these designs symbolized fertility and rejuvenation in women. However, male mummies that have been found in other parts of Africa, such as Libya, have tattoos of images relating to sun worship, on their body.
In the tomb of Seti I, dating back to 1300 BC, tattoos symbolizing Neith, a Fierce Goddess, who led warriors into battle, were found on men. The first known tattoo of a person was discovered on Nubian female mummies, dating to 400 BC. The tattoo image portrayed the God of Sex and overseer of orgies, Bes. Another form of early body ornamentation was ‘cicatrisation’. The word cicatrisation was derived from the French word, cicatrices, which mean ‘scar’. This form of body ornamentation was common among the darker-skinned people of Africa so that their original colour of skin would not show.
While contemporary tattoos involve puncturing the skin for inserting pigment, Cicatrisation involves cutting the skin severely to create wounds, which results in a decorative pattern of scar tissue.
This popular technique for scarring involves piercing the skin and then, rubbing the wound with ash. The latter step is primarily done to inflame the skin, which later heals to form a raised scar. This process used to be carried out on young boys who were about to hit puberty. It was continued until they entered the adulthood. Each tribe had its own individualistic style.
Other African body altering traditions involve extreme forms of body piercing. Lips are pierced and objects are implanted inside, causing the lip tissue to elongate and conform to the shape of the implanted object as the flesh heals.
African tribes are still seen with tattoos on their body. Available in different designs and form.
This helps them to recognize people of their group and also those that belong to other groups.
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