Since ancient times, tattoos have been a mark of self-expression, not gangsterism

“Each tattoo design was unique to that individual and since it conveyed specific information about status, rank, ancestry and ability, it was accurately described as a form of identity card or passport, a kind of aesthetic barcode for the face.”

FILE: Tattoo artist Adrian Wright works on a client. Image: Provided

Last week, Police Minister Bheki Cele came under fire for saying the ministry does not hire people with tattoos because they ‘tend to be a gangster’.

While referring to the recruitment policy of the South African Police Service (SAPS), which expressly declares that “someone applying to be appointed under the SAPS Act must not have visible tattoos contrary to the purposes of SAPS”, Cele’s comment left people confused as to what the tattoos ​have to do with the services rendered by the SAPS and its competence, not to mention the obvious but mistaken and dangerous hypothesis of the link between tattoos and gangsterism.

“We must recognize that these are marks of self-expression and should not be a reflection of whatever industry you work in or your ability to do your job,” a caller told Radio’s Open Line. 702 on the Clement Manyathela show. .

A comment that Manyathela hailed as progressive, instead of “the obsession with people’s physical appearance and their competence” which “has to stop”, he said.

It turns out that, contrary to the minister’s words and the SAPS recruitment policy, tattoos have been used for a long time for various reasons, the least of which is associative gangsterism.

Egyptian female mummies must have been the kingpins as they are among the earliest recorded evidence of tattoos – circa 4000 BC – said to have been used as a form of protection during pregnancy and childbirth, and as a form of adornment bodily.

And while we are in Africa, until recently it was a tradition for Berber women in the Algerian Aurès mountains and Morocco to tattoo their bodies and faces, for beauty and the belief that tattoos could cure disease and infertility.

For Wodaabe men in Niger, facial tattoos are used purely for decorative purposes and social identification.

About Wesley V. Finley

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