Tattoo: Tribal Tattoos and Scarification in Africa

In recent times, young adults in Africa, Nigeria in particular, have catch on the western phenomenon of Tattoo. But interestingly, Tattoo is not new to Africa.

What is Tattoo?

A Mark made on a person or a part of the body with an indelible design by inserting pigment into punctures in the skin.

Tattoo in Africa

People communicate information about themselves by the clothes they wear and the way they adorn their bodies. In Africa, body decoration and dress may offer clues to a person's age, ethnic group, region, social position, and even political opinions. Africans have been decorating themselves with paint or pigment since at least 4000 B.C., when people in SUDAN used ocher* as a cosmetic. Ancient Egyptians used cosmetics as well, enhancing their lips and cheeks with red coloring. Men, women, and children in EGYPT wore eye paint, or kohl, on both their upper and lower eyelids. In addition to being considered beautiful, kohl helped protect the eyes from insects and the glare of the sun.

Body paint also functions as a sign of social status and ethnic background and as part of many African rituals*. Turkana men in KENYA cake their hair with clay and red coloring to celebrate a successful hunt or the end of planting. In many parts of the continent, decorating the body with white clay represents spirituality. Ceremonies marking a new stage in life often involve body painting. Young Dan women from IVORY COAST, for example, paint themselves with bold geometric patterns during rituals that mark the passage from girlhood to womanhood.

For many years, people throughout Africa have created permanent Tattoo Designs (or body decorations) by scarification, or making small cuts in the skin. As they heal, these minor wounds form scars. The procedure is usually performed during childhood, and the patterns and designs of the scarification are often similar to those used in a group's pottery and sculpture. Both men and women bear these scars, usually on the face, torso, thigh, or upper arm.

Tribal Tattoo/Scarification/Body Adornment

African Tattoos (or Scarification) carry special meanings. Certain scars on the foreheads of men in the IGBO region of Nigeria, for example, indicate high social rank. In some cultures, scarification is believed to make a person more beautiful or to provide magical or protective benefits. Because various peoples have developed distinctive styles of scarification, scars may also identify the wearer as a member of a particular ethnic group.

Tribal Among the Yoruba

While some writers are of the opinion that prior to the late nineteenth century, the people now called Yoruba were divided into multiple opposing ethnicities. Ethnic wars displaced millions of people, including about a million Yoruba-speakers deported as slaves to the Americas, Sierra Leone, and the central Sudan, mostly between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the Yoruba-speaking exiles encountered other groups in the diaspora, they found similarities in their cultures and through a process of ethnogenesis created the Nago and Lucumi (Americas) and Aku, later Yoruba (Sierra Leone) nations, into which later Yoruba and several non-Yoruba-speaking slaves were incorporated. After the cessation of the Atlantic slave trade, repatriated of ex-slaves, Christian missionaries, and British colonialists introduced and marketed these diasporic ethnic designations to people left in the home.

Some other studies say that the scarification came as a rusult of the incesant wars in the ancient Yoruba kingdom, a form of ethnic identification had to be introduced.

Tribal Tattoo in Housa

The desire to beautify one's body, which man acquires early in life, is not less keen in the Fulani nomads, despite their hard and unsettled mode of life. That they pay much attention to their personal appearance is evident not only in the ways they bedeck their bodies, but also from the mirror which is sewn into a leather wallet and always hung like a jewel from round their necks on their chests so that they can check up on their appearance from time to time. It is used by both men and women in their adolescence and early manhood.

This desire for personal ornamentation or beautification is, among the Nigerian Fulani nomads, satisfied and fulfilled mainly in their coiffure, body markings and the use of jewellery. Body painting which is purported to be used by the Fulani in general during important festivities such as "geerewol", their songs and dance display or "sharo", their male youths' test of endurance, if the latter is ever applicable to the Fulani nomads in Nigeria, seems to have been discontinued. Their women, however, colour their feet and hands with henna like the women of other ethnic groups in Nigeria. The elaborate dress which their sedentary neighbours living in urban centres take pride in displaying in various styles and materials also seem not to be of much use to them as aids to body adornment; being too cumbersome for their nomadic life.

However, it is conclusive that Tattoo is an integral part of the African tradition


  1. In Africa they relate tattoo to spiritual world. For them tattoo means a lot. find out about meaning of tattoos at Tribal Tattoo Designs For Men

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