Tattoo industry in Africa

September 5, 2017

Back in the days, tattoos in Africa were associated with criminals and to this day people with tattoos still suffer from negative associations with troublemakers and the criminal elements. People with tattoos often find it hard to get a decent job and its almost impossible to become a civil servant even if the individual is well-qualified.According to industry sources data that your blogger has obtained shows there are now more than 100 tattoo shops in capital cities in Sub Saharan Africa, and one on almost every major town.  Across Africa it’s the same and towns that have watched their old telephone booths disappear have gained a tattooist or two. The main cities are Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cairo, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Accra, Tunis and Casablanca among others with each having more than a hundred tattoo joints.The researcher found that 14 per cent of all people aged 16 to 25 are now sporting tattoos and for women in their 20s that number is closer to 25 per cent but the road to social acceptance of tattoos has been a long one in African societies.Tattoos were not found in any African traditional societies but started to become common after European colonizers visited areas of Africa in the second half of the 19th century. In places like South Africa and Nigeria body markings and even face marking were very important as signs of membership of the communities people belonged to, as well as signs of status.It was Europeans coming into contact with Africa that really etched tattooing into the imagination of Westerners.Tattooing in Africa became popular with those people identifying as being less respectable than those in mainstream society towards the end of the 20th century and its popularity has continued to increase since.Musicians and artistes were at the forefront of this resurgence before prisoners and eventually gang members became involved with it.

Getting a tattoo was about belonging to a specific music community rather than expressing any kind of individuality. As time has carried on and tattoos have become more prevalent in African society, the groups embracing them, perhaps through no fault of their own, have taken on a kind of subculture status.In Africa, once something becomes a subculture it registers as a part of popular culture and very quickly enters mainstream society.Africa got to the point in the late 1990s where young people started to see images of tattooed celebrities and pop stars, both men and women especially of black American origin. Rappers like the late Tupac Shakur, Birdman, DMX, Trick Daddy, CANIBUS among others helped inspire a generation of Africans who adore tattoos.Tattooing, along with body piercing now, is really a part of contemporary body aesthetics where the body has become something of a canvas or a material that can be sculpted to make a statement about yourself.As an expression of individuality, however, tattoos in African society could soon reach something of a critical mass.As tattooing has become the norm, some would say rebellion became institutionalized in countries like South Africa where someone recently posted a picture of himself with a Jacob Zuma tattoo showing him exit door of presidency. If something is rebellious or cutting-edge and lots of people engage in it, the rationale for doing it in the first place is kind of undone.Everyone can see that in the hipster Nigerian culture where local musicians face the dilemma of wanting to be different but by being different they end up looking like a lot of other people. For example Burna Boy is wannabe Shabbaranks, the legendary Jamaican dancehall music singer.On the other hand, while a regulatory approach across Africa focused on informing consumers has some value, they fail to address the factors that underpin the strong appeal of tattooing that lead individuals to modify their bodies.In recent years tattoos have become popular among a broad section of the African population. The practice of tattooing reflects the individualistic and consumerist ethos of Africa’s neoliberal times.

Contador Harrison