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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Significance Of Tattoos In The Xhosa Culture And Their Relation To Religion

In today's article we are sharing a young South African's view on tattoos and their meaning in the Xhosa culture.
Zintle Swana is a 2nd year Walter Sisulu University journalism student and has done some research  concerning the connection between tattoos and religion and the different views people have on this matter.

The connection between tattoos and religion has been a disputed matter for a long time. Some say tattoos are a barrier between the human spirit and God or the Ancestors, while some do not share the same sentiments.

Image from Most Wanted Fashion " Tattooing In Africa" by Muhammad Farhan Ali

The Bible says “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on your selves. I am your Lord” (Leviticus chapter 19 verse 28). 
Tattoos are believed to be a contradiction to what the Bible says according to believers, and the Bible is the base of their Christianity.

The Ladies of God Committee from the Jehovah’s Kingdom Church in East London said: “Tattoos are walls that block a human from connecting with God spiritually because your body is God’s temple as one is made in his image. Tattoos are ungodly, they’re associated with Satanism and evil spirits, and it is disrespectful to God directly as he is the creator.”

Image from Most Wanted Fashion " Tattooing in Africa" by Muhammad Farhan Ali

According to the Design Boom website on the history of tattoos, the word tattoo is said to have two major derivations: from the Polynesian word ‘ta’ which means ‘striking something’ and the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means ‘to mark something’ and it is just ink beneath the skin.
In the Xhosa history, tattoos were called ‘imihombiso’ which means body decorations.

A 53-year-old Xhosa elder Monwabisi Mvava said: “These decorations were done 100 years ago when young women did not make use of clothing but imihombiso. This was done with no artificial inks but metal and traditional syrups to heal wounds.”

African Tattoos were traditional done using the technique of scarification, whereby a knife is used to create a design consisting of symbols. Ink, herbs and potions are rubbed into the cuts to heal the wounds and to create a distinct elevated pattern. 

A Xhosa traditional healer in East London, who did not want his identity known for personal reasons, believes that in the culture of isiXhosa tattoos are not acceptable as it upsets the ancestors because tattoos are a western fashion, so to the ancestors it is as if a person is drifting away from their roots.

Tribal symbol scarification on a young woman's body

A long-time tattoo artist and owner of a tattoo shop in Vincent Park in East London, Tony Botha, believes that tattoos have got nothing to do with satanic practice.
“To me a tattoo is something that you fantasize about for a long time before you do it, I live tattoos. To have a tattoo does not mean you are satanic, if I am evil for doing that then why do people decorate the temple at church and paint the windows with different colours?” said Tony.
Large Back Tattoo Source African Tattoo, tattoobite.com

“Hitler killed millions of people but he did not have a tattoo and to my understanding killing is the most satanic thing you would ever do.”
In some religions tattoos are not recognized as anything that could change the society in any way and are not known as a sin.

Large African Acacia Tree Tattoo On The Back Of A Caucasian Male,  Image Tattoobite.Com

Maggs Makhan said: “In my religion, Hinduism, tattoos really do not matter, whether or not you have them, it makes no difference. I believe it is a personal choice to have a tattoo and everyone has a personal reason why they have tattoos. There are those who hide them and there are those who reveal them. As humans we might not believe in the same thing but we cannot judge.”

Amateur tattoos are common among prisoners, sometimes done by gangsters for recognition.
But this is not where the story of tattoos began.

Tattoos are common amongst prisoners as a form of distinction but the origin of tattoos goes back hundreds of years,  Image South African Prison Tattoos by Most Wanted Fashion

Solethu Mavumengwana said: “A tattoo is something I have always wanted. I have seven stars on my arm representing my seven siblings, since I hardly spend time with them. There is more to a tattoo than just a fancy picture on the body; it is a dedication for a lifetime.
Religion does play a role in the view people hold about tattoos and that is what made me think deeply about what I want to do.” 

An African Woman's Face Tattoo On The Hip, Tattoobite.Com

He added: “I believe God knows our deepest intentions and my relationship with him is based upon values instilled in me by my parents and of my own understanding. If God is so forgiving and just, then why won’t he forgive me if this is such a bad thing? He accepts us with all our flaws.”- WSU-SNA

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