Anthropology of Tattoos

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The Body as a Canvas Scarred across her back are raised bumps forming intricate designs of lines and angles, a reminder of who she is and where she is from. She thinks back on the ceremony in which she was marked with the painful scarification. She remembered feeling a sense of calm as the village artist pierced her back with a small arrowhead, stretching the skin away from the body and swiftly but skillfully cutting a slit in her back. He repeated this several times as a ceremonial pot was filled with gathering soot from the burning fire. After the artist finished his tedious design, he rubbed soot from the pot bottom deep into the slits, planting the bacteria that would infect the skin, raising the scars into their meaningful design.…show more content…
In northeastern Zambia, the Tabwa “once covered themselves from head to foot with scarification” (Roberts 1988:41). The women of the Tabwa began receiving elaborate marks on their face, chest, and backs when they were young girls; it sometimes was continued at other points in a woman’s life (Roberts 1988:43) such as courting rituals and for woman wishing to bear a child. Male sculptors would trace designs and make incisions on the lesser intimate parts of the body; they left the rest for the women to do. ‘Tabwa women used razors to slit skin [that had been] plucked up with a fishhook or arrowhead. These incisions were then rubbed with soot from a pot bottom, an irritant that produced the desired raised cicatrices” (Roberts 1988:44). There were several reasons that this tradition was done, different to every age and gender in the tribe. Young women went through this process in order to achieve a state of perfection, which was required for those wanting to marry and have children (Roberts 1988:45). Scarification is a form of body art that was used in several tribes because according to their customs “beauty is not physically innate, but rather a function of the girl’s inscriptions” (Roberts 1988:45). Not only the Tabwa, scarification was used in such tribes as the Ga’anda and the Tiv; all the tribes have distinctly different purposes for doing this, but the process and effect of the body are the same. Another form of body art is body painting, which the
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