Berber tattoo – tattoos and Berber culture

The tattoo is one of the oldest rituals of the Berber culture, whose origins go back to the pre-Islamic period. These Berber ethnic groups, which have traces dating back to ancient Pharaonic times, nomadic tribes and Berber-speaking groups, have historically had a presence in more than a dozen African countries, from the Mediterranean Maghreb to sub-Saharan Africa By Egypt and Niger, from the Atlantic Ocean to the banks of the Nile.

The Berber tattoo is linked to a set of pagan rites of sorcery and magic. These beliefs are always the object of customs in the countryside, where Islam has only partially integrated these ancient practices and beliefs. The tattoo called “el-ayacha” is sometimes still practiced in rural areas, where women have always protected their children from bad luck and bad luck by drawing them on the forehead with Black smoke for example. We find this custom when the day of the birth of a child coincides with an adverse event. The tattoo has here a function of communication between the human body and the world of the spirits. Today, in the Maghreb, tattooing with henna is still part of the Berber traditions, the ornamental side having long ago overcome the primitive magical sense.

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At all times, tattooing has been a custom among Berber women, whether ornamental, to adorn themselves as with jewels and to make themselves more beautiful and desirable, with a subtle touch of eroticism while suggestion, or for Expressing a feeling, symbolizing a social status (husband’s death and widowhood for example, the Berber woman can wear a tattoo on the chin connecting each ear, symbolizing the beard of the dead husband).

Going back to the Neolithic in North Africa, the Berber tattoo nomadic tribes also served to dissociate and identify the members of the different Amazigh tribes by drawings, often on the face, with very geometrical characteristics and allegedly magical virtues: tattooing Supposed to ward off evil (to keep away the evil eye) and brought good fortune and success. Even today, women are the repositories of the customs of a very ancient civilization, which runs counter to today’s Islam, as interpreted in many countries. The tattoo has partially adapted to this Koranic prohibition, notably by never representing the image of man.

For Muslims, most of the time, tattooing is prohibited by Islam, a symbol of sin and mutilation, a modification of the divine work, in spite of its status as an immemorial custom, imams continuing to condemn all ties to other Muslims, Ancient beliefs in supernatural elements. This is why women, the main users of aesthetic designs on the skin, today use the henna tattoo, temporary and not mutilating, more commonly, for religious reasons. There are many rites associated with the Henna, in which it remains very present even today: the rite of marriage (ritual of the “night of henna”, birth, baptism, circumcision.

The Imazighen (free men) or Berbers, tattooed the forehead, chin, cheeks, back of the hands and temples using pigments derived from substances of vegetable origin, coal, mixed with water Or blood, motifs and symbols of their own and had a very special meaning. The tattoo of the time was more social than ornamental, unlike today, where this notion of symbolic tattooing has disappeared in the new generations of Berbers, although it can sometimes retain a notion of attachment to a community, allowing the Berbers and especially the Kabyles to distinguish themselves culturally from the Arabs.

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The function of tattooing is thus historically multiple among the Amazigh: it can be protective and ornamental, but also identity or medical: in the Sahel, intervening halfway between the outside and the inside of the body, it was lent Healing properties: headache, arthritis …

Each detail, each motif has its own symbolic meaning in the Berber tattoo

The point symbolizes the fireplace, which is in the center of the house
The crescent moon the matter that is born, grows and dies.
The spiral symbolizes eternal harmony
The circle represents the absolute.
The palms tattooed on the front of Berber women invoke the mother goddess
The first vertical line symbolizes god and life, as well as the first tool planted in earth by man
The two traits symbolize the duality between good and evil that dwell in everyone

The square is the representation of the house
Two superimposed squares symbolize the battle of god against the curse and the darkness
The rosette, composed of triangles: the one with the point pointing up symbolizes fire and manhood, while the triangle with the point at the bottom represents water and femininity
The more (sign +) symbolizes the eye of God, the star whose light guides man in the night. The cross symbolizes the two legs or the two arms of the man.
Other symbols: palm palm, rafters, fir pectins, life lines

The old Berber women are still able today to give the region of origin of their congeners according to the number of traits on their tattoos. On the forehead or temple, it can be identical and linked to a given tribe, like the tribes of the Drids or Beni-Douala who used it as a sign of recognition. Ritual tattooing is still common in Yemen, in the desert and in the Maghreb, mainly among nomads. The motifs can have different meanings depending on the origins of the person. (Send us your testimonials on the meaning of the reasons)