- Fatma Tarnouni, 106
- Tarnoun, a Berber woman from the Chaouia region, was tattooed aged 10 by a man from the Sahara region. “It was the rule, it was fashionable too. All the girls were tattooed. To be beautiful, you had to be tattooed, so I did it. Today I regret being tattooed,” Tarnouni said. “I will be punished by God and I would be eaten by the snake in my grave, If I knew it was not permitted by my religion, of course I would not have done it.”
- Mazouza Bouglada, 86
- Bouglada, poses in Taghit in the Aures Mountains. Bouglada was tattooed aged 7 by a nomadic man from the Sahara region. She was advised by her mother to get tattooed. The more she got tattooed the more she showed off. Even if she still remembers the pain, she felt beautiful once it was done, Bouglada said. She was very proud of her stars on her cheeks. Her eldest sister had been tattooed before her and she wanted to imitate her. Bouglada said she has now given away all her silver jewelry to atone for the sin that believers told her she had committed by being tattooed.
- Fatma Badredine, 94
- Badredine, a Berber woman from the Chaouia region, who has facial tattoos, sits inside her house in Arris at the Aures Mountain near the eastern city of Batna, Algeria October 8, 2015. Badredine was tattooed aged 13 by a nomadic woman from the Sahara region. “I had to endure excruciating pain just to look pretty,” Badredine said. “I wanted to have the tattoo removed but my doctor advised against it, my age doesn’t allow it.” Some believers have told these Muslim women that by allowing the tattoos they committed a sin according to Islam. To make amends, those who regret having the tattoos give away their treasured silver jewelry to the most deprived women they know.
- Djemaa Daoudi, 90
- Among the Chaouia people, a woman’s beauty used to be judged by her tattoos. Daoudi was forced by her husband to have a tattoo, done by a local Berber woman, just after their wedding when she was 15 years old because it was a fashion.
- Fatma Haddad, 80
- Haddad, a Berber woman from the Chaouia region, who has facial tattoos, inside her house. Haddad was tattooed aged 18 by a local woman. “I did it because all the girls my age were tattooed,” Haddad said. Today she regrets being tattooed. “At that time we were very young, even if we didn’t have extensive knowledge about the religion, our thoughts were far from committing a sin,” Fatma said. She has given away her silver jewelry to make amends. Before parting with the jewelry, she turned it around seven times over her tattoo. “I had the feeling that I was erasing it.”
- Khamsaa Hougali, 68
- Hougali, is a Berber woman from the Chaouia region. “In my case it was different. My stepmother advised me to get tattooed to bring luck after the sudden death of my first three children. My cousin and sister-in-law tattooed me. I had the feeling that God would give me the children I wanted and save my marriage. It was not acceptable to be a wife without having children. Believe it or not, but what I know is, that after being tattooed I had six children and they are still alive,” Hougali said.
- Djena Benzahra, 74
- Benzahra, sits inside her house in Ouled Azzouz in the Aures Mountain, Algeria. Benzahra was forced to have a tattoo when she was 9 years old by her mother, who wanted her to look beautiful. All the girls her age were tattooed, her mother said. “I still remember, it was so painful and I was crying, refusing to be tattooed,” Djena said. Today even if her tattoo looks small she regrets allowing her mother to do it, because, like all tattooed women, religious people around her have told her that she has committed a sin. “To ask forgiveness from God, I’ve given away all my silver jewelry after turning the offering seven times on my tattoo.”
Long before the reality show Miami Ink and its family of spin-offs made a splash on pop culture by demystifying tattoo culture, the Berber women who populate Algeria’s Aurès Mountains had developed a unique culture of inking their flesh. According to the Berber women’s beliefs, the tattoos were used to heal any number of maladies and even as an antidote for infertility. The women decorated their faces and bodies with various types of symbols.
But in the 1930s and 1940s, the practice went into sharp decline, a shift attributed to the growing influence of Islam, which forbids tattooing the flesh. Over the decades, the practice has continued to decline to the point where very few Berber women still take part in the tradition and those women who have tattoos are are the elder women from previous generations.
Interestingly, the symbols that were tattooed on them carry meanings, but those meanings are in jeopardy of being lost forever as the practice dies out. Which is precisely why author Lucienne Brousse compiled a book chronicling illustrations and meanings of all those symbols seen tattooed on the faces and bodies of women. Feminine Beauty and Identity: Female Berber Tattoos of the Regions of Biskra and Touggourt was released earlier this year, and, according to Brousse is a “modest study, neither exhaustive, historic nor comparative.” Among the many symbols contained in the book are drawings of and meanings behind “the partridge’s eye” and “the palm leaf.”
Above, see some photos of Berber women and their unique tattoos.
Read the full story at The Huffington Post.