When Did Tattoos Become A Taboo In Africa?


Maybe you have thought of getting a little butterfly on your lower back. Maybe just a little cross on your arm to really affirm your commitment to your faith. Maybe just the initials of your loved on on a very discreet part of your body, but suddenly society’s mantra of body ink being evil is drilled into your head. You suddenly cancel your appointment with the tattooist and you look at those who have made their bodies living and breathing canvases, with scorn.

However, notwithstanding what you have had, tattoos are actually a cool thing in Africa. Some tribes in West Africa still practice scarification up until now. In fact, the oldest tattoo every found was on an Egyptian mummy around 2000 BCE. Mindblowing right! I guess your gogo  (grandmotherdoes not know that. No shade!

Tattoos on a mummy found in Egypt


In Zimbabwe, it is a decreasing norm to have marks either on the feet, hands or the face known as nyora, although some traditional healers prescribe this for their patients. This part of our culture has been dying down slowly with activists calling it body mutilation. Fair enough! The point is, tattoos are part of our culture.

Woman from Benin with tribal marks

Let’s go back to slave trade for a little bit, shall we! Tribes used to mark captured members with distinctively in case they escaped or got lost. Therefore, we can call these marks a sign of identification. Enter the Americanization of Africa, with loads of visual content coming our way and altering the way we view things. Most of the gangs in movies and series use tattoos as identification marks. Maybe that is our mothers got the notion that tattoos are evil. Or maybe its the over the top symbolic tattoos which go against the common religions now. Who knows!

All evidence points out to the fact that tattoos have been part of our culture for a long time. Whether they were used for beautification, identification or to show social status, these marks are part of a heritage we try so much to distance our selves from. That begs the question, when did tattoos become a taboo then? Tell us what you think!


Free Thinker. Loud. Another inhabitant of Terra Firma. I am not your favourite person. Neither do I plan to be. But you will know my opinion. In fact, you will love it.

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