The history of tattooing in Africa dates back thousands of years. Until the recent discovery ofOtzi the Iceman, the oldest known tattoos belonged to the mummy of Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor somewhere between 2160 BC -1994 BC. With her simple parallel lines on her arms, legs, and an elliptical pattern below her navel, Amunet was the oldest glimpse we know had into tattooing in Africa, and the world. The designs found on her mummy, were believed to be symbols of fertility and rejuvenation. No male mummies in Egypt have been found with tattoos, but this does not mean they didn't exist, as male mummies have been found in Libya with tattoos of images relating to sun worship. In the tomb of Seti the first, dating back to around 1300 BC tattoos symbolizing Neith, a fierce goddess who led warriors into battle were also found on men. Very early tattoos portraying Bes, the god of sex and overseer of orgies have also been found on Nubian female mummies dating back to 400 BC.
Henna and Mehndi were popular in ancient India and ancient Egypt and still remain popular today in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East and North Africa.
Tattoo MeaningsThe great variety of tribes and peoples of Africa mean that it's hard to state all the reasons for tattoos, however, tribal hierarchy, geographical location (as in the case of the Makonde tribal tattoos from Mozambique), spiritual protection, and rites of passage feature highly as reasons for tattooing throughout Africa's past.
DesignsAll manner of animals, plants, ancestry and spirits are denoted in African Tattoo history, achieved not only through tattooing, but also through body-painting, cicatrisation and Scarification.
The Adinkra symbols, created by the Akan people of Ghana, and the Gyaman of Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa have become popular in some parts of the West.