TATTOOING IN AFRICA.

By Nii B. Andrews.

Tattoos have largely gone mainstream; they have become a vibrant modern artform.

But I am not ready to get one yet – and then not even on my upper arm or torso where it would have remained hidden from public view.

Of course, there is still quite a lot of resistance to face and neck tattoos with the former known as “job stoppers” in the UK. 

Will a facial tattoo have the same effect in Ghana and for which jobs and why?

The tattoo phenomenon dates back millenia in Africa with over 5000 year old mummies in ancient Egypt having been observed to sport them. It was also practiced outside Africa.

The National School of Tattooing, which opened its doors in Tunisia in January, is the only one of its kind in North Africa.

The institute was founded by 35-year-old Fawez Zahmoul, a former engineer who began to learn tattooing in 2006 as a way to earn extra cash whilst living in Morocco.

It took him six years to master the art and now he owns the only legalised tattoo studio in Tunisia.

Whether such a school exists in Ghana is unknown to me; and whether there is any legislation or regulations covering tattoo artists and their studios is also unclear.

In almost all societies tattoos were associated with milestones – initiation rites, puberty, marriage; with aesthetics and also as symbols of power and class.

There is an obvious difference between scarification (and cicatrisation) and tattooing. The technique in tattooing involves the repeated insertion of pigments into the skin usually to trace out a linear form.

French photographer Eric Lafforgue captured a series of thought-provoking images, which reveal the traditions and beliefs behind the tattoos in the region of Benin and the Sahel.

Eric said: ‘It is a dying art that today is only carried out in rural villages. Holi, Somba, Fulani, and Fon still have impressive scars and tattoos.’

Several factors led to this decline. They included religion and the pressures of modernisation and urbanization. 

The resurgence of tattooing in Europe and America has also been accompanied by its increasing adoption among the youth in urban Africa (relying here on anecdotal evidence only please).

The availability of the electric tattooing machine has also been a major factor.

It will be interesting to see if very soon yet another ill-informed and mis-informed high ranking public official or figure will stridently and vociferously condemn the practice as unAfrican and alien to African traditional culture.

Meanwhile, the tattoo artists and their clients continue to indulge in an ancient art form and it is interesting to look at the colors, forms, tropes, symbols and images that they have chosen to use and where they have decided to place them.

Does any reader have a tattoo that they will like to share with us; maybe even a photograph?

How can I forget the tattoo that a male patient had in Brooklyn; it was strategically placed on the top side of his ‘Johnson’ – it simply read, “hello”. No, I do not have a photo of it.

It will be very useful if at one of our “degree awarding” institutions some serious research was carried out to provide excellent analytical data on how and if the art of tattooing has changed over time in Ghana….perhaps since the 1950s; we will welcome some good answers.

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