“How Abyssinian Women Tattoo”

On September 17, 1891, the Olean Weekly Democrat quoted an article from Popular Science about how tattoos were done in Abyssinia (what is now Ethiopia). I don’t think that they were talking about the West in the text that I’ve highlighted, but in 1891, they may well have been because during that decade it was very chic among the “upper society classes“.

Painting is temporary and needs frequent renewal. In many parts of the world we find color designs, elaborate, curious, sometimes beautiful, made permanent by tattooing. The pattern and the method vary greatly with locality. In some regions men only tattoo, in others only women, in others both sexes. Here it is confined to the nobles, there to the servile. In Abyssinian women chiefly tattoo. The whole is covered, even the gums are painted blue. An old woman operator’s tools were a pot of blacking (charred herbs), a large iron pin, bits of hollow cane and pieces of straw — these last for pencils. She marks out the design, prices dots with the pin loaded with the dye, and goes over it repeatedly. To allay the subsequent irritation it is plastered with a green poultice; the scab must not be picked off.

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

6 thoughts on ““How Abyssinian Women Tattoo”

  1. my great grandmother tattooed both my grandmother and mother in this way. My g-grandmother was pretty heavily tatt’ed and grandmother has quite a bit herself. Surprisingly, very few of the tatt’s between them are religious.

    I wanna go back home and get a tradtional nikisat but it’s all but died for the most part. it makes me sad.

  2. Where have you found all these interesting old arcticles! I have really enjoyed reading these lately…it’s cool to not only get a new perspective (especially since not a few of these has been written from the medical point of view), and to actually feel like a part of a much longer tradition. I mean, I know modification was prevalent in more ancient history, but had the impression that it almost disappeared for more than a few centuries, only present in the subculture. I’m a classical music performance major in school, and also have heavily studied 19th century art and culture, but things like this are never mentioned! Thank you for bringing something new to my idea of the often-Romanticised 19th century (and before and after). :)

  3. Having read a lot of literature from that period (well, from most periods really, but that especially), I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty that the ‘here/there’ refference has less to do with here VERSUS there than with a ‘here and there’ sort of term. Sort of an example a compared to example b. It was the style at the time to write in (what to American ears sounds like) conversational British-styled english.

  4. I agree with anselm, actually. In context, “Here…, there…” really seems to mean “In some places…., in other places…”, not “In America…, overseas…”.

  5. Oh, I’m in agreeance with you guys, that’s why I wanted to make sure to link the other article to show that it could just as easily be expressed with the “here” meaning America.

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