Traditional tattooing rituals in North Africa are fading, and most of the remaining women who have them are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. The practice was common among Berber and Amazigh women in North Africa, but started dying out in the 1930s and 40s. Tattoos would be marked on the face and other parts of the body, when women were young. The symbolism of specific tattoos was often linked to fertility, childbearing or healing rituals, but as very few people currently practice ritual tattooing, much of the meaning behind specific tattoos has been lost.
Yasmin Bendaas went into the mountains of Algeria to interview women about their tattoos and the rituals and meaning behind each one. There are some beautiful pictures accompanying her piece, and an interesting look at the specific customs that drove tattoos. One healing ritual in a specific tribe was to ink tattoos with a murderer’s knife, preferably applied by the murderer himself. Bendaas posits this could have been a way for the murderer to begin paying for his crime – by helping to ease someone else’s pain. See the photos and read the accompanying story at Your Middle East.