Before now, those who wear tattoos were seen as ‘local’ people, but this has changed, as it is now seen as a fashion statement. Blessing Adewale looks at the history and changing fortune of tattoos in the modern day world.
BODY art has been around for centuries, probably since humans discovered that there were certain plants that could be used to give the skin colour, and thus body art was born. Different tribes from around the world practice the many forms of body art, from body piercings, to body painting. The most common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercings.
The history of body art started with pre-historic humans, and as time went on, body art kept its position as a spiritual expression, before becoming an expression of social importance. Native American and African tribes used tattoos and body piercings to express beliefs and status in the society.
Chiefs, for instance, had different body markings than an ordinary hunter or any other tribe member. Where a chief may have had a tattoo that symbolised power or resembled a god, a hunter might have had a tattoo that resembled a buffalo or some game he hunted. Piercings and tattoos were signs of accomplishment and membership.
In the olden days, people used to beautify their body by the use of clay and other natural colours. Certain tattoos stood for certain positions in the community, and in some cases, every member had some type of body markings that indicated their status. For ceremonies, the elite class donned the trappings of their rank and power. Women in the tribes received special markings for marriage, to signify they were a spouse. Women in the olden days inscribed their names boldly on their bodies, especially where they are visible. The chief had more tattoos and more piercings because of his status in the tribe, and the older members of the tribe had more because of age. In many cases, the markings had high religious significance.
Body art is still common today, but the fact is that the reasons for having them are different. In the olden days, body art represented origin, position, symbol of power, among others. The Yoruba society, in the past decades, believes before a maiden gets married, or even after marriage, she must cut tattoo marks on certain parts of her body for the purpose of enhancing that part for societal appreciation and for her husband’s appreciation.
The motivations behind body art, including body piercings and tattoos, have changed. Today, unlike in the past, body piercing and tattoos are mediums that allow individuals to convey ideas. The mentality of youths adorning their bodies with tattoos today is that it is now the simplest way of beautifying the body.
According to Miss Bunmi Adeoti, who wears a tattoo, “the reason why I have a tattoo on my body is that it brings out the beauty in me and also, tattoo is what I like so much because it makes me remember the beauty of the olden days.”
For Miss Tunmise Aderoju, tattoos allow her to express herself. “For example, I inscribed the name of my late father on my arm. I love my dad so much, and I feel connected to him spiritually by carrying his name on my arm.”
Miss Aderoju is not the only one who expresses herself through tattoos; for Edwina Adjei, a university student who has a butterfly tattoo on her neck, “I just love butterflies ever since I was a kid. I used to keep them at home because they signify beautiful things. However, as an adult, I can no longer keep them, and the best thing is to inscribe them on my neck.”
However, going spiritual, Mrs Ronke Aina explained that “tattoo is not good for a child of God; we should be contented with the way God created us and stop looking for other artificial beauty.”
The truth today, however, is that body art, or tattoos, is gaining more popularity among the youth.