African Tribal Tattoo Art

Friday 10th of April 2009 12:56:44 PM [Add To This Article]

African tribal tattoo art is among the most unique forms of indigenous tattoo art. While most types of tattooing techniques and designs ultimately originated with the principles of opening the skin and rubbing in some sort of pigment that would remain under the skin after the wound had healed, African tribal tattoo art is actually a texturing process rather than simply a dying or pigmentation process. This makes it not only unique due to the procedure, but also unique because it can be quite painful. It is not surprising that African tribal tattooing is often used to mark passage into manhood or womanhood, which can also be very painful if one is part of an indigenous African tribe.

There are a fair number of indigenous tribes in Africa today. Some are nearly untouched by the modern world, while others preserve many of their rich traditions while also interacting with their more modern neighbors on a regular basis. Either way, the African tribal tattooing process is both primitive and elaborate. To get an African tribal tattoo, one must work with someone who is well versed in the art. Usually, in an indigenous tribe, these would be some form of elders who would supervise a child’s passage into adulthood, arrange marriages and officiate in public meetings. The African tribal tattoo design is cut into the flesh with a knife or other sharp object. Because of the dark pigmentation of most African people, simply pigmenting or dying the cuts is not sufficient to create a clear, distinct tattoo design. To resolve this issue, the cuts are packed with dust, ashes or colored soil to create a raised design. The resulting scar is the tattoo.

Of course, this practice is by nature excruciatingly painful, but it will clearly indicate whether a girl becoming a woman or a boy becoming a man will be able to withstand the difficulties of living the often hard life that is part of membership in an African indigenous tribe. These tattoos are highly prone to infection since the tools used are seldom sterilized according to modern standards, and packing any wound with dirt poses an inherent risk to healthy healing. However, these tattoos, which often indicate age, affiliation and rank, are highly prized because they are not only symbolic of a major accomplishment in determination and hardiness, but they also are ruggedly beautiful and work in conjunction with the lines of the body to create an beautiful and mysterious element of danger. Furthermore, certain tribal symbols often indicate particular milestones or accomplishments, and having one of these symbols literally engraved on the body is a way to let everyone know your worth to yourself and your tribal family.

In more modern areas of the world, African tribal tattoo art is popular as a way to remain in touch with one’s roots and celebrate one’s history. Darker, ethnic skin tones often react differently to the tattooing process than lighter tones, and some scarification is not uncommon when dark skinned people get tattoos even if those tattoos are not “packed” with anything to make them raised. Also, often a greater quantity of dark ink is necessary to make the tattoo visible on the darker skin, so this can also contribute to the inflammation and irritation in the area that leads to a raised design once the tattoo is healed.

Traditional African tribal tattoos often originate in West Africa. These designs indicate certain characteristics about the owner of the tattoo, and they are highly indicative of a closeness to one’s heritage. For example, adrinka designs, which are geometric symbols, include the adinkrahene, which indicates greatness of character and charisma, and the akoma, which means literally “the heart” and indicates patience and tolerance. Just as with any other tattoo design that you might get that is in a language or symbolic text that is not your native tongue, you should always work with an expert or a scholar before actually getting a traditional African tribal tattoo inked on your skin to make sure that you are very clear about the meaning of your new tattoo. African mask tattoo designs are also extremely popular and are a great way to show appreciation for art, culture and heritage all at once.


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