The tattoos, in a tribal context, are much more a means of communication than decoration. They can be seen as a means of expression in themselves, a sign of religious affiliation or a way to relieve the symptoms of spiritual or physical harm.
In all cases, these tattoos are meant to represent the identity of a person.
In the Amazigh (Berber culture), women were historically tattooed on the face. Before the arrival of Islam in North Africa, this practice was widespread. Since the arrival of the Islamic faith, the belief that altering the creation of Allah is haram (defended) has caused an almost complete decline of this practice.
During ceremonies or important celebrations, henna is often used to replace the important symbolism of the tattoo, but temporarily.
These temporary decorations are often limited to the hands and feet, and the art of facial tattoos is disappearing.
Berber tattoos were often placed near openings in the body (nose, eyes, mouth, navel and vagina) or in areas of the body that could be perceived as vulnerable (feet and hands).
In Berber culture, these particular places need to be protected from evil "Jnoun" spirits who might try to enter and possess the body of women.
Many tattoos of a certain style were placed in certain parts of the body to protect from the evil eye. That's why the name of the Berber tattoos is "Jedwel", which means talisman.
The tattoos were rites of passage and were made at certain key moments of life.
The first type of facial tattoo is called "Siyala" and is located on the chin. Siyala often has the symbolic shape of a palm tree and consists of a straight line from the bottom of the lip to the bottom of the chin. This line is sometimes accompanied by points representing the seeds.
The second type of tattoo is called "Ghezama" and is placed between the eyebrows. This tattoo was later extended, also covering the front and is known as 'el – ayach' (the lucky charm).
There are many abstract elements in the drawings and symbols of Berber tattoos but many others come back repeatedly, such as:
The tree – which represents strength.
Seeds – which represent fertility.
The frog and the spider – which represent fertility and magic rites.
Snakes – which represent the phallus, fertility and healing.
The ridges – which represent water, prosperity and fertility.
The lizard – which represents rebirth and light.
Flies and bees – which represent toughness and energy.
The diamonds – which represent the protection of the personal space.
The Khamsa (or hand of Fatima) – which represents the protection against the evil eye.
Tattoos, like other forms of decoration, are languages in themselves. Non-spoken languages immersed in deep beliefs and representing the need to be protected from invisible threats.