Posted by: Dr. Y. | August 23, 2019

Scarification: an ‘Ancient’ African Tattoo Culture

Congo_Batetela woman Lualaba Kassai_1905

Tetela woman with intricate ritual scarification designs ca 1905, Lualaba – Kasai

Today, we will reblog our article on scarification, an ‘ancient’ African tattoo culture. Not too long ago, scarification, as practiced in Africa, was much more than art work on skin. For many, it was a way of identification (the ethnic group you belonged to), a right of passage (boyhood to manhood, girlhood to womanhood, …), symbols of beauty and status, protection against evil spirits, and a rich tradition passed on from generations to generations. So next time you think about tattooing yourself, remember the ancient ways and designs of yore.

African Heritage

Image of a young woman's face (agnautacouture.com) Image of a young woman’s face (agnautacouture.com)

These days, many of my fellow African brothers and sisters sport tattoos of some European or foreign symbols on their skins. These symbols are usually alien to our cultures, traditions, thinking, and history. So I thought about talking about scarification, which could be called an “ancient” African culture of tattoos.

For starters, Africa has a rich culture of scarification. Many cite HIV, and ugliness as being the reason why they would not do scarification and why the practice has been abandoned. I neither agree nor disagree with them, but I would like to give a history of scarification and why, this is something to be cherished as part of our history, even if it is no longer practiced and/or needed today.

Sculpture of a Mangbetu person, in Congo (this sculpture is exposed at the MET) Sculpture of a Mangbetu person, in Congo (exposed at the MET)

In the past, a woman or man would have scarification marks that…

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