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The Kabylian Tattoos


The Berber tattoo (thishrat) represents not just the cultural expression of a community but it carries within it the ancient memories of the origins of human life on earth. It is for this reason that its radiance is so great that it attracts many women and men. The tattoo was a custom in kabylia; women  adapt it to adorn themselves like jewelry and to make themselves more beautiful and desirable, to express a feeling, or symbolizing a social status (husband's death and widowhood for example; the Berber woman can draw a tattoo on the chin connecting each ear, symbolizing the beard of the dead husband). 

       The Imazighen or Berbers tattooed motifs and symbols of their own that had a very special meaning on the forehead, chin, cheeks and back of the hands by using pigments derived from substances of vegetables, coal, mixed with water or blood. In the old times, the tattoo 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. In Kabylia , tattooing was practiced in a ritualized manner and was done during collective sessions. It should be noted that the teaching of the tattooer (women) was only oral and inspired by their own perceptions. They scarified the skin with a blade or with the thorns of the barbarian fig tree ,following the contours of the drawing previously traced to the soot. The blood was dried with a cloth soaked in soot. After that,they washing it with soap and water and coated it with "tizeggzawt" (mixture of beans, wheat and black pounded). Then finally to make it indelible with the ashes of a blue cloth soaked in oil.

   The Amazigh tribes drew, often on the face, with very geometrical characteristics and allegedly magical virtues. The tattoo was supposed to ward off bad luck (to remove the evil eye) and brought good fortune and success. The Berber tattoo is a pre-Islamic rite of woman; the henna tattoo replaced it with the arrival of this religion which forbids it considering it an act of physical mutilation. 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 for instance in the rite of marriage, birth, circumcision, etc. 

   Here are some symbols with their universal meaning; they were usually tattooed on the forehead, cheeks, chin, arms, wrists, hands, legs, ankles and feet.  Each detail, each motif has its own symbolic meaning. The crescent of the moon, for example, represents the matter that is born, grows and dies; The spiral, the eternal harmony; The circle, the absolute; The point symbolizes the fireplace which is in the center of the house; The palms tattooed on the forehead, the mother goddess; A vertical line, god and life, or also the first tool planted in the earth by man; Two traits, the duality between good and evil that dwell in each; The cross, the two legs, or the two arms of man; 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 sign “+” symbolizes the eye of God, or more poetically the star whose light guides man in the night ;The square is the representation of the house ,and many other signs ... It is highly important to mention that tattoos and their meanings vary from one tribe to another and do not think that these tattoos are reserved for women, men also, tattooed their forehead, chin, Cheeks, back of hands .

    The function of tattooing is thus historically multiple among the Amazigh; it can be protective and ornamental, but also identity or medical (headache, arthritis, etc).Tattoos could have the function of marking belonging to a social group, preserve the woman from illness or the evil eye ,protect an area of the body and attract fertility considered in its universal sense (procreation, creativity, abundance ...).
written by ARAB Sabrina

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