Exploring the tattoo culture

Ancient Egyptians invented ink tattooing and the practice is traced 5,000 years back.Tattooing has been practiced for centuries in several cultures throughout the world. In fact, tattoos have become conventional in the fashion industry as a new craze of body piercing takes over men and women in the modern world. Tattoos are made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment.
Eric uses the sophisticated tattoo machine to shade a client. The New Times / D. Umutesi
Eric uses the sophisticated tattoo machine to shade a client. The New Times / D. Umutesi

Ancient Egyptians invented ink tattooing and the practice is traced 5,000 years back.

Tattooing has been practiced for centuries in several cultures throughout the world. In fact, tattoos have become conventional in the fashion industry as a new craze of body piercing takes over men and women in the modern world.

Tattoos are made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment.

During ancient times, African traditional tattooing was a culture and not simply an expression of one’s individuality. The designed patterns on one’s body in most cases portrayed cultural traits and an individual’s inner character. At times the art of African tattooing described tribal lineage, maturity and spiritual protection.

Eric Habimana is one of, or probably the only professional tattooist in Rwanda. Besides his passion for music, he said that he embraced the culture of tattooing people in 1999. Since he loved art, his friend who had returned to Rwanda from the United States of America trained and introduced him to the art, as well as, gave him tattooing equipment. He has not looked back.

“I can’t say I’m a great artist but I have mastered the tattoo art. Art on a slate or paper is harder to do as compared to body art (tattooing),” Habimana explains.

He further adds that he fell in love with practicing body art even though he has a strong passion for music. When he is not tattooing, he is a deejay.

“This business is still a new venture. I get four people per month, and the rates are viable depending on the size of the tattoo,” Habimana said. 

The most popular method of tattooing involves ink. Ancient Egyptians invented ink tattooing and the practice is traced 5,000 years back. However, the Egyptians had limited the practice of tattooing to women.

“It’s a good idea to first research about the tattoo you want and learn about the process and its shading technique. It’s from its shading that the tattoo design is given depth and form,” Habimana explains.

According to Habimana, the details in any tattoo are the most challenging; even though a tattoo is small, it could take longer to complete it than a larger one that has no distinctive details.

“I get to sketch the design of the tattoo on a special tattoo carbon paper, which I later place on the desired area of a client.  It’s from the details of the carbon paper that I trace while tattooing,” he says.

The most effective type of tattoo shading is done with a tattoo machine. The machine uses different needles, arranged on a bar. These needles are rapidly pushed in and out of the skin by the machines motor. 

“These surgical needles are expensive and are imported from abroad. During tattooing a tattoo artist has to be extremely clean which means he must wear surgical gloves and use medicated antiseptics such as, Detol Liquid soap,” he explains.

The needle is dipped into the ink, which is either black or colored. Thereafter, a lighter shade is tattooed on the traced design; while shading, the pierced area is cleaned with the antiseptic.

The tilted needle on the tattoo machine is moved across the skin like a paintbrush. For darker tattoos, artists cover the skin with a lubricant before applying the ink to help the needle move smoothly across the area getting shaded.

Before dipping the needle into more ink, the area of the complete tattoo part is thoroughly wiped clean of excess ink. This lets the tattoo artist see the finished effect before moving on to the next area. There is no room for mistakes as tattoos are permanent.

When tattooing is finalised, a client has to apply Neomycin Sulphate cream on the tattoo area within an hour and for the following three days. Neomycin Sulphate prevents any possible infection and enables quick healing of the area.

“The misconception that most people have about tattoos needs to change. There is something they don’t know—tattooing is a culture that has existed for centuries and is everywhere.

The only difference with those of today is that, current tattoos are modernized since special machines and colour is used,” the tattoo artist explains.

At the end of the day, judging people based on body art is as strange and misconceived as judging an individual with pierced ears.

Dorau20@yahoo.co.uk

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