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Ink-Soaked Traditions

Ink-soaked traditions
A girl getting a tattoo after Sunday mass
Ink-Soaked Traditions
Tattooing is an old tradition in Egypt, but the art is developing and spreading among the younger generations.
22/12/2016 | Cairo

By Nehal El-Sherif and Jihad Abaza

Did you know?

The art of tattoos goes way back in Egypt. "In the old days, they tattooed areas over some bones to heal the pain temporarily, or at that time they believed it would heal them permanently," says Ghada Hasabo a lecturer of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology at the Faculty of Medicine in Cairo. In Southern Egypt, until recently, men and women got tattoos on the sides of their foreheads. It was believed that the tattoo would heal their headaches, even temporarily.

At a certain point in ancient Egyptian history, prostitutes got certain shapes tattooed between their breasts or on their necks, while those who had been previously jailed got tattooed on their shoulders, as a way to make them stand out amongst people.

"After that the art developed, upper class people started getting tattoos that highlighted their achievements. For example, when a prince or a leader wanted to show off his sword skills, then he would get a tattoo of a lion," Hasabo says.

Religious tattoos became common when the equipment used for tattooing became more accessible, thus making different, more complex shapes easier. "Religious tattoos were not exclusive to Christians. Muslims wrote Allah or drew the crescent," Hasbo says. "On the other hand, Christians also got tattoos to identify themselves. Some of them even got tattoos of crosses below the neck, instead of wearing a necklace."

Image: Jihad Abaza