Photographer Eric Lafforgue Captures 'Dying Art' Of Tribal Tattoos

21inkedd in Stories

French photographer Eric Lafforgue captured the dying art of tribal tattoos in West Africa and the results are amazing!

In remote West African villages ritual scarification and marking is still carried out as it has been done for centuries. The practice, however, is a dying art with many communities no longer following the practice. French photographer Eric Lafforgue visited the rural villages where scarification is still a common practice and captured the tradition in a series of amazing photographs.

The scars and tattoos are marked on the face as a ritual practice, the markings are believed to protect the wearer and rid them of evil. Each marking has its own significant meaning and varies person to person. For instance a baby with a scar on their left cheek shows they are in good health.

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

Lafforgue learned that the lines and geometric shaped scars reveal what tribe a person belongs to and where they are from. They are likewise seen as symbols of beauty and strength. A man with scars is considered very attractive; 'The women love the marks on the men so it is a great way to marry a beautiful woman '

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

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Similarly women mark their stomachs to show beauty but also because they believe that the more scars you have the more children you will have. Such scars can take days to make and thereafter show the strength of the woman and that she is ready for marriage.

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

'It is a dying art that today is only carried out in rural villages. Holi, Somba, Fulani, and Fon still have impressive scars and tattoos.'

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

Scarficiation was also carried out to ensure tribal identity, a practice that proved useful during times of conflict. 'All across Benin, nearly every man or woman wears a specific scar pattern on their face to mark their tribal membership. In the past when the different tribes in the region were at war, they helped warriors identify who was friend and who was foe.'

'After the fights our ancestors could easily recognise the dead warriors and give the right funerals depending on their clan,'

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

According to some experts the roots of the protective nature of the scars comes from the height of the European slave trade. Traders preferred people with unmarked faces, so those with scarification and tattoos were often spared captivity and enslavement.

Photograph by Eric Lafforgue
Photograph by Eric Lafforgue

Due to the pain involved with the process and risk of infection and disease many cities and towns in West Africa have banned the practice of tribal scarification and as a result the practice is dying out. Yet, thanks to the amazing work of Eric Lafforgue the 'tribal art' has been documented and can be preserved for generations to come.

21inkedd

@Robert Davies

Tattoodo Staff Writer and tattoo enthusiast. Lover of all things traditional and blackwork!

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