Tattoos in Kenya

My Fellow Countrymen,

It seems somebody snuck a needle and some ink across the border. Now all you under-35ers are getting moist and stiff in the loins for skin doodles. A few years ago, getting piercings was a big thing, now, all of a sudden, everybody and their mothers are getting flowers and Bible verses inked in their armpits. All this randomness in the name of being hip.

And it’s cute. This whole fad is freakin’ adorable.
I’m happy for you.
I really am.

So happy in fact, that I’d like to ask a small favour, if I may? Kindly allow me to share in your joy and laugh as loudly as my lungs allow – in your face – when you show me your new tattoo.

No, really.

I solemnly swear to be so happy for you that I laugh outrageously loudly – or LOL if you’re one of those – every time you say “Sema you guy, I got a tattoo!”

All respect due to most of those artists, 98% of Kenyan tats look like biro sketches on public school wooden furniture. You remember those?

Yeah, that’s what you have on your bicep now; an artistic abortion. Just because you didn’t want to spend the proper amount on a tattoo.

I have a friend who’s a tat-artist. Amazingly skilled, greatly experienced. She has got what is called Irezumi(入れ墨) and it is beautiful. It’s a tedious time consuming process. Depending on how long and how much you have, it can take years to complete and thousands and thousands of dollars. Her’s cost about $15,000 and took the better part of her time studying art and tattooing in Japan to complete.

Not to say that we should all dole out hundreds of thousands of Kenyan Shillings on skin art – that’s like wearing several Vitz’s(which is almost as bad as driving them). But what I am saying is that these things are permanent and should be treated as such. It’s not just something that “looks nice”; from the day you get it, forth; it’s a part of you. “Nice eyes” or “Nice smile” will be overshadowed by “Erm…interesting tattoo.”

I don’t know about you, but in the Kenya I grew up in, I was taught to be proud of who I am; what I am. It wasn’t about tribe or class, it was about identity; personal identity. I was going to get the most massive tattoo ever in 2006 but decided against it. Not because I have anything against it – I don’t. I’m a huge fan of great art and self-expression. But I began to think back on my life and look forward. Every blemish on my skin and scar in it has a story that has contributed to my growth thus far.

The keyword their being growth. It’s not an addition, or an appendix; an edit or a cover-up – it’s a new part of you.

Something tells me that if we all thought like that, we’d be seeing less butterflies tatted on girls’ cleavages on a night out in Africa.

Or that at least they’d be properly done, with some sense of pride & professionalism. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying a good chuckle at their expense.

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15 thoughts on “Tattoos in Kenya

  1. Something that’s never been said: “Hey dude, that’s a really original tattoo of a cross you have.”

    As for chicks and butterflies, don’t even get me started on that.

  2. Butterflies are not tattooes. They are tramp stamps. Fortunately Ugandans are either too conservative or too broke to wild out over tats.

    This girl I know has something on her chest… no one can tell if it’s a dragon or a carnivorous flower. She has to keep going, “it’s a phoenix!”
    Not hot.

  3. Funnily enough, I know more .ke chicks than dudes with tattoos. I think its a self-expression thing for mamas. If only the tatts themselves were a bit more original. *sigh*

  4. oh my goodness!! i never thought i would c the day when someone wrote an article on this issue. And i always wondered…”am i surely the only one with this opinion?” Colonialism is still deeply hammered in many of our heads.Copying every single thing westerners do!! I mean, some of the things the folks in the west carry out are worthy of being emulated, but some??? come on!!!!!!!!

    P.S i knew abt the article thru, u shud find a way of marketing it further. Pple need to read this.

    • 🙂 Tell a friend to tell a friend. The only way the word will spread is if you spread it.

      It’s weird the type of things that we as Africans take for granted – i.e our rich rich heritage. I’m waiting to see someone with a uniquely African tat before I retract my opinion that most of the time, it’s a bad idea.

    • I’ll try and remember to email them to you. I know she used to be located somewhere on Mombasa Road but that was in 2008. Will give her a call

  5. I live in Uganda and want a very good tattoo and it just so happens I will be in Kenya in the next few weeks. Can u also send me the information for the girl who does good tats? I would greatly appreciate it

  6. i’d like to see a black guy With an irezumi tattoo. That’s something to giggle about.

    Then i’d like to see a guy WITH TATTOOS write something about his own. That’d be cooler than this.

    I’ve seen my fair share of really good tattoos. obviously the owners paid well but mostly it’s the tattooer that was very skilled. There’s a load of scratchers in Kenya, most of who run their businesses legally so you could easily get fooled into getting ur skin ruined.
    There’s only about two or three really GOOD ARTISTS and none of them’s in the CBD.

    If you’re one of those that googled your tattoo design then you know it’s your fault if you end up sharing the same tat with your sister’s husband and his mistress’ boyfriend. Test your artist’s skill and creativity before you let him work on you.

    Sometimes when it comes to tattoos, bigger is rarely better unless the work is very intricate.

    Last, Don’t listen too much to the skeptics. They probably will never get tattooed.

    …and what the hell was the guy thinking writing that shit on his face?!!!

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