Tattoos, an ultimate show of love or just a bad idea?

Friday, February 21st, 2020 07:40 |

It is just a week after Valentine’s Day, a day when lovers reminded each other about their commitment to each other whether they are married to them or not.

For some people this might have meant getting a tattoo of their lover’s name, image or initials.

There are no figures available about the number of people who choose to demonstrate their commitment in this way in Kenya, but a quick online search will yield countless images and stories about getting a lover’s name or image inked onto their bodies.

Kenyans publicly known to have gotten a tattoo of their loved ones include Kenyan rapper Jackson Makini Ngechu, alias CMB Prezzo who had tattooed his ex-girlfriend Michelle Yola’s name on his palm as a sign of love.

Former Classic 105 Radio host Tina Kaggia also opted to get a wedding ring tattoo around her ring finger when she got married to her comedian husband Nathan Kimani aka JB Masanduku.

The sheer number of posts on social media suggests that this is a much sought after expression of commitment. And recent research backs it up, finding that common reason for wanting a tattoo is to pay tribute to a partner.

Age-old practice 

These demonstrations of commitment date back many centuries. In the 18th Century Japan, a female showed her commitment to a male lover by having his name tattoed on her upper arm. The Japanese word for love ‘inochi’ would be tattoed alongside the lover’s name to signify the female’s hope that the commitment would beforever. The male lover would also have the name of his upper arm to signify the same.

The downside of getting a tattoo of a lover has not changed either. Just like today, in the 18th century, not all relationships lasted a lifetime as the lovers may have hoped. And when the commitment ended, the tattoos were no longer desired.

Prezzo had to delete Yola’s name from his skin two years ago after the two broke up. It is not clear whether Yola also did the same.

And so did Kaggia. She made news headlines late last year after almost losing her ring finger while undergoing laser treatment to remove her wedding ring tattoo at a local clinic. 

She decided to scrap off the tattoo after her marriage to JB went south. Sociologists and psychologists caution couples who make the decision to get marching tattoos to think about that decision before embarking on the process because tattoos are more permanent than wedding rings and marriage vows. 

Eric Zinanga Munyole, a tattoo artist at Ricks Tattoo Kenya says an artist is professionally expected to counsel and advice clients about the merits and demerits of tattoos before getting the art work done.

And especially, he is expected to turn down any client who is below the age of 18 years old because they might not be ready to walk the journey. 

“Tattoos are very addictive. It doesn’t end at one.  Once you get one small tattoo, it is like an initiation into the world. You will want to get another and another and more. So it is very important to have a very sober reason for what you want to permanently carry on your body. I have been in this field for over 10 years and from my experience I cannot do any art on client under the age of 18 or one who is under the influence of alcohol,” he explains.

Ahmed Ibrahim shares that despite the fact that he covered up his ex-lovers name on his arm with a new art, he still feels that he had rushed into the decision. 

“I got the name Nancy so beautifully done only for her to leave me four months later. The new person I started going out with after her really hated it, so I had to cover it up. I don’t feel like it’s completely gone sometimes I can trace it with my finger, but the worst part is that the girl I dated after judged me so much for it. I wish I could just wipe the whole thing off for sure, if I could go back in time I really wouldn’t get any unless it was my mother or daughter,” Ahmed intimates.

Monica Kagia, a Mombasa-based journalist says it would be the most unthinkable move for her to get a tattoo of a name or face of lover, in the name of love. 

“Tattoos for me are a permanent reminder of something... most of the time a very soulful event. My favorite tattoo is the tiara on my arm, which I got after going through a very heartbreaking experience. This reminds me that I am an important being and if not for anyone else, then I am still the queen of my own kingdom. Tattoos are like beauty marks depicting something, which wants to come out. Getting a tattoo of my spouse means it stays for the rest of my life. Even if I cover it up, it is still underneath that. I could, on the other hand, do a phrase like ‘I love you’,  but no name,” she says.

Meaningful tattoos

For accountant Asha Cassidy, all her four tattoos have sentimental meaning and none of them has a connection to any man she has dated. She says though, it is probably possible to get symbols that she might derive meaning out of even after a break up.

“All my tattoos have very deep meaning. For example, the first one I got is my mothers name. Then I have one which says ‘God is greater than my highs and lows’, which I got at a point in my life when I was really low because of my mother’s ailment. 

“Another is on my foot, which says ‘He walks with me’, because I believe God is always with me and the fourth says ‘Hope’, because I know everything will always work out. About getting any other person’s name, I say hell no,” says the young accountant and model.

Zinanga explains there are many reasons people should not get arts they are sure they might not want in the coming days. “I think the biggest problem with most people, especially today’s generation, is that they merely get tattoos out of peer influence, or copy from movies and think it is cool. Very few people have real reasons for the tattoos they get. In 2019 , I got about six couples who got tattoos of each other’s name. So far, two out of the six have already come back for a removal,” says Zinanga.

Even though removal of tattoos is possible it is usually a quite difficult procedure. Only specialised tattoo artists can undertake the delicate task of removing tattoos, which involves having the dye taken out from beneath your skin. The process is time-consuming and expensive, but most of all rather painful since it may leave you with blisters and scabs, which may even develop into scars.

 “I receive people who want cover ups, but it is not an easy process for artists, especially the ones who have no experience in the field can bring out something really ugly. I don’t know any tattoo artist , who can do a good cover up in Mombasa. Also depending  the size, it can cost between Sh2,500 and Sh5,000 sometimes more,” he says. 

However, getting a tattoo or having it removed is also associated with certain health risks and it is better to be aware of them so that you can make an informed decision. The usual method followed in most tattoo parlours is to use a hollow needle to inject colored dye below the skins’ surface.  

“Most tattoo shops do the business for the money and not passion, so they don’t take safety precautions for their clients. The risk here is primarily related to the needle with which a tattoo artist uses to work on you. If the needle has already been used on someone carrying a blood-borne infection, then you stand the risk of being exposed to diseases,” Zinanga says.

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