Tribal Tattoo and Scarification

Other Destinations

Trip Duration Days - 12 Days

Tribal Tattoo and Scarification

Price Starts from € 1800

During the Age of Exploration, Europeans became aware of the relatively extreme forms of body art practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa. One of these forms was scarification, a body modification procedure that offered a sculptural quality to the skin. Sometimes a colored pigment was added to the incisions forming a kind of tattoo, sometimes not. During this ethnographic trip, we will meet 3 ethnic groups and learn about their scarification and tattoo techniques, the techniques, meaning, aesthetics, current situation, and future… The trip will be accompanied by an Anthropologist and an expert in African body modifications.

Dates: 1-12 November 2020

Duration: 12 days / 11 nights

Price includes:
- All transfers
- Hotels, and tented camps with breakfast.
- Spanish guide during the trip.
- Meals mentioned in the itinerary.
- Land transport in private vehicle (minibus).
- Fuel and tolls.
- Mentioned visits and excursions.
- Travel insurance
Not included in the price:
- International flights
- Not mentioned meals in the itinerary.
- Drinks in the meals.
- Visa
- Cancellation insurance.

Arrival in Cotonou. Meet the trip’s coordinator and transfer to the hotel. Evening presentation of the ethnic groups we will visit, tattoo and scarification techniques. Hotel du Lac or similar. BB.
Breakfast. Drive to Porto Novo, benin’s politica capital. Visit the old Afro-Brazilian quarters. Continue to Holi-Ije tribal region. Meet the local chiefs and the old tattoo master. Ije people are a sub-group of the Yoruba nation. ‘Kolo’ is the Yoruba word for ‘tattoo’. There are several varieties of body markings and scars among the Yoruba but kolo are pigmented cicatrices that look and feel like raised keloids. According to the art historian Henry Drewal who lived with the tribe in the 1970s, the permanent designs served a variety of purposes including beautification and especially proclaiming the courage of those individuals who bore them.
Women were the primary recipients and Yorubas often commented that kolo are a “test” for the brave to endure so that they will be praised after their painful skin-cut tattoos have healed. Essentially, the patterns were acquired before marriage and prepared the woman for childbirth. They were not applied all at once, and were gradually obtained since aesthetic value was inextricably bound to their value.
Although physical appearances were highly esteemed in Yoruba society, the concept of outward beauty could not be separated from its complimentary interior dimension. As Drewal has noted:
Outer appearance may either hide or reveal one’s inner, or spiritual self. The Yoruba prayer, “may my inner head not spoil the outer one” cautions one to conceal and control negative tendencies because they can affect outer appearance and, therefore, can draw hostility from others. Conversely, positive attributes such as courage should be displayed openly, for Yoruba assess an individual’s personality both from physical appearance and behavior. Thus, elaborate body markings would be viewed as permanent and highly visible proof of one’s courage, fortitude, and strength – qualities that parallel those of the patron of body artists, the God of Iron, Ogun.
For these reasons, Yoruba tattoo masters were highly sought after and were held in great regard. They were called oniisonon or “skilled designer” or “one who creates art.” Renowned tattooists were praised for their speed, skill, dexterity, and technique. Some were quite famous since “200 faces know [them].”
Skin artists of the highest caliber mastered a repertoire of many kinds of cuts, from long and bold facial incisions (ko ture), to broad slashing cuts (keke), and bu abaja or short, shallow and faint designs, among others.    
Most Yoruba motifs were derived from nature and featured cowrie shells (esa), lizards (alangba), palm trees (igi ope), arrows (ofa), ostrich (ogongo), vulture (igun), dove (adaba), chameleon (agemo), centipede (okun), butterfly (labalaba), corn cobs (agbado), and the “moon of honor” (osu ola). Other motifs were taken from the material world and encompassed dancewands (ose) of the Thunder God Sango, Islamic writing boards (walaa), arm amulets (apa tira), a king’s crown (ade oba), staffs of authority (opa oye), game boards (opon ayo), anthropomorphs, the tattooist’s Y-shaped blade (abe), and even scissors, airplanes, wristwatches, and personal names in recent times. Sometimes one or more of these designs were combined into composite and highly symmetrical motifs that were employed to decorate specific body parts and were named accordingly (e.g., “vagina design” placed on a woman’s thigh; “platform for the chest,” “back of the hand or leg,” “husband sits on lap [thigh]” and “carving the abdomen”).
Other Yoruba incisions were medicinal in nature, but instead of inserting soot or lampblack into these wounds body artists, priests, and village healers administered a variety of herbal remedies. Typically speaking, the location of such treatments corresponded to local ailments so, for example, short vertical marks placed beneath the eyes of children were incised to prevent them from trembling, a condition believed to have been brought to the living by spirits. Incisions infused with herbs near the mouth might add to a hunter’s courage and increase his memory, while medicines rubbed into cuts below the lip may have enhanced an individual’s curses against another since; “when the individual wishes to curse he licks his lower lip and whatever he says will come to pass.”
Finally, these potent substances were also employed to attract specific deities or their spiritual familiars into the bodies of the initiated. To accomplish such goals, small cuts were made on the crown of the devotee’s head and special herbs were then applied to “activate” the vital essence of the god. Small tufts of hair (osu) mark the location of these magical devices.
During 2 days we will learn about ‘Kolo’, meet the last tattooed generation and the last tattoo master of Ije community.
Accommodation in: tents. FB (Full Board).
Breakfast. Drive to Dassa. Meet Yoruba King at the palace, learn about Yoruba mythology. Accommodation in: Auberge de Dassa Hotel. BB.
Breakfast. Long drive to northern Benin. Stop in villages and markets along the way. Reach Taneka tribal region. In this area, facial and body scarification is still alive. Meet the local chief and the Animistic priests and learn about scarification techniques in the area. Accommodation in: Taneka Guesthouse or similar. FB.
Days 6, 7 and 8: TANEKA – KOUANDE
Drive to Kouande Kingdom to meet the Fula (Borgu) nomadic tribe.
The Sahel is the ecoregion or transitionary climatic zone located between the Sahara desert in the north and the savanna grasslands to the south. It stretches across the African continent from the country of Senegal eastward to the Red Sea.
One of the largest tribal groups that inhabitant the western Sahel region (from Senegal to Chad) are the Fulani, who are variously known as the Peul, Fula, Fulbe, or Felaata. These nomadic herders are gradually on the move throughout the year, searching for new pasture and water sources for their vast herds of cattle. Some groups have become more sedentary and have settled down in villages or towns where they practice agriculture, engage in market commerce, and have become devout Muslims.
Perhaps one of the most heavily tattooed of all Fulani groups are the Wodaabe. In the 19th century, these nomads fled Nigeria to avoid the pressures of British colonial rulers and Muslim chiefs and migrated north to the plains and savannas of Niger where they roam a vast territory that extends across several international boundary lines. As one elder reported, “Here we are free to follow our traditions. We have room to move with our animals when and where we please.”  
In the Fulfilde language spoken by all Fulani tribes, Wodaabe means “people of the taboo.” This moniker is appropriate because the Wodaabe are governed by a series of customary laws and behaviors passed down by their ancestors that emphasize humbleness and modesty, patience and fortitude, hospitality and physical beauty. Men also seek to repel bad luck through the use of many forms of talismans worn in pouches or placed in their turbans. Powdered tree bark, seeds, and leaves are believed to ward off evil words, enemies, or attract women and it is not surprising that throughout West Africa the Wodaabe are famous for their knowledge of maagani, secret cures both real and magical.
Wodaabe tattoos also reflect this magic because many symbols are associated with fertility or are employed as charms (toggu) to increase a man’s or woman’s beauty. Other marks are believed to hold medicinal cures.
I myself have encountered “magical” tattooing among the Peul in northern Benin. In a Bétamarribé and Waama village on the outskirts of Natitingou, I met Yaseku and his son Umaru – both Muslims – who dwell here during the rainy season. Umaru told me that he received his facial markings when he was eighteen years old. The Peul call tattooing tchouti and a series of facial markings cost 500 Francs or roughly $1.00. Peul tattoo artists can be male or female and the motifs were pricked in with a sooty pigment. Umaru said that the Peul tattoo for beauty which is not surprising because these distinctive people wear bright dress, much jewelry, and even facial makeup.

As noted, the Fulani are famous throughout West Africa because they are nomadic cattle herders who cover great distances in the dry season in search of water for their herds. Perhaps this is why Peul men are intricately tattooed so they might impress those women they meet during their long journeys through Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger. However, Yaseku noted quietly that he believed his tattoos also protected him from evil spirits (jinn) lurking in the landscape.
The aesthetics of Fulani tattoos vary from subtribe to subtribe. In Mali, women’s tattooing resembles the bold and dark mouth tattoos of the Ainu of Japan and completely surround and cover the lips in a circular pattern. According to my friend Michael Laukien (aka Travelin’ Mick), Fulani markings are called socou-gol and are pricked into the lips with needles by a throdi or female tattooist. Traditionally, only the lower lip and gum were tattooed with a pigment of charcoal mixed with shea butter when a girl reached puberty. After she had become marriageable, her upper lip was incised but today these practices have been largely abandoned and young women have their entire mouths tattooed before wedlock.
Wodaabe women also wear a similar tattoo on the sides of the mouth, but it is cut into the skin with a razor and resembles a more textured type of scar tattoo.
During 3 days we will learn about this last nomadic culture and their beautiful tattoos.
Breakfast. Accommodation in: tents. FB (Full Board).

Breakfast. Farewell from Fulani Borgu people and drive to Parakou. Accommodation in: Grillardin Hotel. BB.
Breakfast. Drive south towards Cotonou. Accommodation in: Hotel du Lac or similar. BB.
Breakfast. Transfer to airport.