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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Piercing have been in many cultures for centuries. Mostly in tribes in Africa such as Egypt and Ethiopia, piercing was used for a sensual beauty mark, religious purposes or an engagement symbol. Many times piercing has been believed to be a way to ease child labor. Although many could be just a belief and not proven to be true, it is always a sign of beauty



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Done by students at the Country day school of the sacred heart
480 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr PA 19010 

Nose piercing originating in the 16th century was first recorded in India. The nose ring was used to accentuate the face because many tribes believed the nose was the true characteristic of the face. Sometimes the ring was joined with a chain from the nose to the ear on the left side. They also believed that it eased pain while the woman was menstruating or during childbirth.

A piercing that was used to keep away evil spirits is the ear piercing. Many African cultures believed that the material in an earring helped the spirited from entering the body. A simple pierce on the ear lobe kept the spirit from entering the body through the ear.

Two African tribes in Mali and Ethiopia began the trend of expanding the piercing with gauges such as putting objects in the lip and ears. Wood, Ivory, and metal were inserted for mostly religious references. "Among the tribes of central Africa and South America, the labret piercing is stretched to extremely large proportions and large wooden or clay plates are inserted." (Painful pleasures) When asked why they would do such a thing, pierce their labret, an African man simply stated, "For beauty! They are the only beautiful things women have. Men have beards, women have none. What kind of person would she be with Pelele? She would not be a woman at all."

eptum Ooch-Irian Jaya-Indonesia


Ear Plugs- Burkina Faso

Labrets- Cameroon Ear Plugs

pictures courtesy of


Tattooing has been said to be in existence since 12,000 BC. The earliest found tattoo was in Egypt. The tattoo was found on a mummy from the times of pyramid building. This permanent art form was soon adapted by Arabia, China, Persia, and Greece. African tattoos were used for religious worship. Female mummies had tattoos to worship the god of fertility. Men were found to have tattoos worshipping gods of warriors. Male mummies have also had tattoos to worship the sun for a good harvest. Tattoos did not spread quickly out of Africa because it was a painful procedure. The skin was penetrated by hand and the ink was rubbed into the open wound. The first electric tattooing machine was invented in 1891. As tattooing became more readily available upper classes became turned off by the concept, because lower classes were able to receive them as well. In Africa there was an ancient alternative to receiving a tattoo, which was cicatrisation. Cicatrisation is the act of scarring the skin for decoration. This is more popular with cultures of darker complexion because it shows up better then a dark tattoo. One of the methods of scarring is to cut the skin and rub ash into the wound so it swells and when healed the scar is raised. Pebbles have been put into the scar tissue to make the scar more raised then it would originally be. Sporadically the scars were reopened to keep it visible. The practice of cicatrisation is now becoming popular in the US. Professional athletes have been seen with the scarring marks. The traditions and rituals of ancient Africa have spread and are becoming more popular around the world. The methods have changed and become more advanced, but in African tattoos are still used for religious and cultural worship. African are trendsetters in many ways and tattooing is one of them.

Egypt mapEgypt


Courtesy of C. I. A.


Stiffler, David. Piercings. 2003. 09 Mar. 2005

"History of Piercings II." Piercings. Body Jewelery Direct. 09 Mar. 2005

Painful pleasures: History of Piercings. 1998. 09 Mar. 2005

African Tattoo's. 2000. 09 Mar. 2005 .

"Egypt." the world fact book. 15 Feb. 2005. 09 Mar. 2005


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The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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