Tattooing is a universal practice which has different meanings and purposes depending on which region in the world it is practised.
In Sub-Saharan Africa tattooing is generally seen as an adornment, even as a piece of clothing. Scarification is the most common form employed. This consists of making a superficial incision in the skin with the aim of leaving a scar. After the incision has been made, charcoal is rubbed in to both pigment and raise the scar.
In the Maghreb countries, tattooing has been a tradition for over 5000 years. The designs are relatively simple but very graphic consisting of skilfully composed patterns of lines, diamond-shapes, crescents and dots. The face and the hands were most frequently decorated.
The art of tattooing has been practised and developed in Polynesian culture since ancient times and plays an integral role in their society. In times gone by, tattooed inscriptions would indicate the social status of the man or woman who bore the tattoos. Tattoos were a way for Polynesians to show to which clan they belonged and would allow them to differentiate other members of their clan from the other groups. All Polynesians had to have at least one tattoo on their body.
Tattooing has long had negative connotations in the West. This form of expression was practised by convicts and criminals and also became popular amongst sailors. The designs referred to their travels, their adventures, their sweetheart left in port... In the 1960s, tattooing was still regarded as a distinctive mark used by eccentrics or members of marginal groups who wanted to demonstrate their spirit of independence. This still meant criminals, prisoners or even bikers. However, tattooing has gradually escaped these prejudices and has become more and more popular at every level of society. This practice is now losing its negative association and is becoming increasingly commonplace. Tattooing has lost its symbolic nature and more often than not, simply has an aesthetic quality.