The Changing World of Cultural Tattoos

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By Chinelo Eze February 06, 2022 | 11:30 a.m. The world is changing, and it seems that every split second humanity is reinventing itself. Despite this current wave of change, we are still deeply inspired by the past. Tattoo culture has existed for centuries in Africa with enormous significance. For many Africans, tattoos are epidermal alterations that act as signifiers of tribal affiliations.… The world is changing and it seems like every split second humanity is reinventing itself. Despite this current wave of change, we are still deeply inspired by the past. Tattoo culture has existed for centuries in Africa with enormous significance. Tattoos for many Africans are epidermal alterations that act as signifiers of tribal affiliations. They are believed to protect and ward off disturbing vibrations, are a reflection of status. As markers, they were used during the slave trade era as a signal to other slaves to locate themselves in a foreign country. The wide range of meanings of tattoos, also known as tattoos, range from curing illnesses to connecting to a group, protection from evil spirits, social status and more evolving perceptions. Ethnographic and archaeological finds suggest that tattooing has been practiced by just about every human culture in historical times, with particularity in certain parts. The ancient Greeks used tattoos in the 5th century as a form of communication between spies. In Egypt, they were given a tribal and religious value. As the height of civilization in ancient Egypt approached, plain ink tattoos were imprinted on mummified corpses. On the bodies of female mummies, the marks are dated to around 2000 BCE, and their male counterparts date back to around 1300 BCE. Egyptologists have associated these body marks on females with a representation of rejuvenation and fertility, as they have been seen around their abdomen and pelvic region, while male body marks represent Neith, the goddess of war and weaving. In African history, scarification involves tribal modification of the body, which involves deep cutting into the skin to cause visible and permanent scars. This type is widespread in the sub-Saharan part of Africa. However, in places in North Africa like Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt, tribal tattoo culture is a common culture. Interestingly, as a Muslim-dominated society, they view it as disrespectful and “godless” – a view not dissimilar to Christian belief. In December 2021, a New Zealand journalist, Oriini Kaipara, made history by appearing on Primetime TV wearing her visible face tattoo “moko kauae” as it is known for women and “mataora” for men. This act has sparked differing feelings about whether it is appropriate to display tattoos in workplaces. However, if you dig deeper, it was done in a conscious move to inspire Maori tribesmen to reclaim their language and heritage. Kaipara says her main goal is to encourage people to speak the language that was “beaten from my grandmother’s generation”. To highlight the importance of his actions, Kaipara implies that “we still haven’t addressed a lot of intergenerational trauma and colonization and for Maori it’s very, very relevant and poignant too, not much in terms of of race relations here hasn’t changed in a very long time.” Among young people, this seems like a spontaneous ‘out of the fun’ incitement to many, and to some the idea that this is a work of art is exciting. While it may be a trend, there is this cultural awareness to pave the way for black inclusion and communicate black culture through body marking symbols. An American tattoo artist in Brooklyn, Doreen Garner says “there is always a void, there is no black presence, there is no imagery acknowledging even blackness as a contribution to American life…” This implies that for tattoo artists like Garner, it’s not just art but pr promotion of culture through art. In the cacophony of trends, let’s not forget that #awakening is not preservation.

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