The Africa tattoo: continental tramp stamp

I write this list with a bashful heart as I was an Africa tattoo enthusiast. I almost etched my beloved continent onto my skin as a badge of eternal African pride. Here are 4 irksome questions I asked myself about the Africa tattoo that eventually convinced this little ol’ African against the venture:

  1. Do you really have genuine love for all 54 countries?

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It plays into the clichéd tribute where a continent is reduced to a country. As an African woman who is still grappling with the complexity of her own country, a petty part of me almost demands there be a general knowledge test about Africa must be passed with flying colours before one has the audacity to sit in a chair and etch an entire continent into their skin. I half hope that the sheer amount of cultural, social, political, historical and traditional knowledge that is expected to be memorised would be enough of a deterrent.  Granted, you don’t have to have a PhD in African Studies to show your love, respect and appreciate Africa but would a tattoo be necessary to legitimise an affinity for the continent.

  1. Which part of your body is pedestal enough for such a tribute?

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A quick Google search will show the stoic contours of Africa have inspired approximately 13 700 000 people. The tattoos range in position and size. The nape of one’s neck which might show coy pride. The bold chest position, usually over the heart like a warrior who traverses the Serengeti. A warrior who understands the dangers of the land but loves it nonetheless. Perhaps the tattoo is smacked confidently in the centre of one’s back revealed when one wears for specific occasions like visits to the beach. Lastly, the wrist or forearm is a popular position as it accessorises a closed, raised fist for Black Power salutes. Now I understand that ‘tacky’ is a matter of personal taste but, Africa tattoos have been placed on flattering positions of the body like the previously mentioned ones but they have also graced butt cheeks. I can’t help but feel that it is somewhat sacrilegious to African nationalism. Admittedly, there is no right or wrong position but each position does have connotations and implications, whether intentionally disrespectful or not.


  1. Who even drew the world wide accepted shape of the continents and are they to be trusted?

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We are all very familiar with the Mercator map, the world map that Geography teachers have been using to teach us throughout our academic careers. Our collective surprise that the map, created in 1596 to help sailors navigate, portrayed the continents as distorted in shape and size. Now, when I think of sailors in the 16th century, I invasion entitled colonialists squinting at this misappropriated map and rubbing their hands in anticipation of a thorough looting. I start to get an uncomfortable phantom itch where I thought I’d get an Africa tattoo because it was drawn as a treasure trove.


  1. Isn’t this tattoo a little gimmicky?


I sat down to sketch a few design ideas and this question crossed my mind. I wanted my prospective rendering of the African continent to be as layered in imagery as it would be in meaning. Impulsively, my sketches were a naive romanticisation of African iconography. Lions, sunsets and bare-chested maidens, oh my! These emblems of suggested pride used clichéd iconography that ultimately eroticises Africa as an ancient Eden. My tattoo search attempts played into the stereotypes of  the ‘Dark Continent’: lions, elephants, acacia trees, hyper-sexualised women and manly warriors. These problematic archetypes of a utopian Africa is an unforgivable generic gimmick.

Taking all of that into account, remember that these are simply my opinions and observations. I will admit that I have had the pleasure of seeing a few gorgeous Africa tattoos and I can appreciate the aesthetic but I am disenchanted by the concept.



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