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Makonde tribal tattoos

Updated on January 27, 2009
Makonde Tattoo on Women
Makonde Tattoo on Women
Men Makonde Tattoo
Men Makonde Tattoo

Makonde Traditional Methods

In traditional Makonde practises for tattooing, the tattoo ('dinembo') ("design" or "decoration") usually requires three or more sessions with the tattoo artist (mpundi wa dinembo) ("tattoo design artist") to produce the correct result. Cuts are made with the traditional tattoo implements (chipopo), the design of which is one of the only major changes in Makonde tattooing practices - the old blade has now been replaced by newer razor blades to produce cleaner, deeper lines. Vegetable carbon is then rubbed into the incisions producing a dark blue color.


Men normally tattoo men, and women normally tattoo other women, although sometimes there are exceptions. The memory of the design is cut into the subject by the tattooist, then the vegetable carbon is rubbed in, and the wounds are left to dry in the sun. The process is repeated twice more at 6 month intervals, so that steadily, a raised relief pattern emerges in the desired design. Those who do not complete the second or third sitting are ridiculed by other members of the tribe, and sometimes threatened - this applies to the women as much as the men, who are chastised by their tattooist who acts as a kind of godmother during the tattooing rite, as courage is one of the characteristics a tattoo shows in Makonde culture.



Spiders (lidangadanga), root bundles (nkaña), and crocodiles (nantchiwanuwe) are just some of the decorative motifs used by the Makonde which are believed to have had magical properties to the tribe in their past. Even today, fertility symbols such as lizards, palm trees and palm fruit are believed by Makonde women to attract husbands when tattooed on their abdomen and inner thighs.


Much of the practice of tattooing pubic and naval areas may also relate to the old tribal practice of trying to ward of evil spirits who may want to enter the body through vulnerable areas.


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