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Tattoos: Between the Tribal and the Universal

during the cleansing rituals.

The Curds in northern Iraq and south-eastern Turkey continue in a

practice of tattooing, whose origins are probably related to Balkan tattoos.

36

In Iraq, until the 1930s, both men and women tattooed themselves for

purposes of protection, healing, and decoration. The art of tattooing

was conducted mainly by women, and the ink was prepared by mixing

charcoal with breast milk. The design was simple and geometric and was

not confined to any specific part of the body.

37

In Iraq, the

mullahs

(female

religious leaders) would conduct ceremonies that combined prayers with

tattooing. The

mullah

would sit with the tattoo artist, read verses from

the Quran, and turn the home of the person who received the tattoo into

a sacred space. It seems that this ceremony fashions a fabric of repeating

spiritual and corporeal patterns, which link the women, as the keepers

of tradition, with the dimension of sanctity. This intimate space, which

was fashioned from the link between the sacred words of the Quran, the

Baraka

(blessing in Arabic) that the tattoo artist weaved into her work and

the complex designs and the colorful healing colors, created a spiritual

experience of praying and tattooing, speaking and creating.

38

Tattoos: Stigma, Oppression, Disgrace

Many cultures considered tattooing as a practice with a positive value,

while others used tattooing for negative purposes.

In ancient Greece and Rome tattoos were mostly associated with crime

and slavery. Slaves and criminals were marked so that they will not be able

to escape from their masters.

39

It is worth mentioning that the practice of

marking the Hebrew Slave in ancient Israel, by boring his ear through with

an awl (

Exodus

21: 2-6

), is not so different from the tattooed markings of

slaves in other cultures.

It has been postulated that since ancient times the banning and

stigmatization of tattoos and their use to oppress or take away the liberty of

others was a way for the monotheistic religions to distinguish themselves

from pagan ones.

40

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