Culture September 01, 2022 at 03:00 pm

Diamou: Why some women in Senegal tattoo their gums

Stephen Nartey September 01, 2022 at 03:00 pm

September 01, 2022 at 03:00 pm | Culture

Image via YouTube/Metropolis

What degree of pain are you willing to undergo to have black gums, a silver tooth and a beautiful smile? To be considered beautiful in some West African ethnic tribes of Senegal, one has to undertake the appealing modification of their gum in a cultural procedure called “diamou” which literally means gum tattooing.

The age-old custom is practiced in communities like Thies and is meant to attract the attention of potential suitors. Gum tattooing is not only a desire among Senegalese women to catch to beauty trends but also a test of one’s ability to withstand pain, according to a piece authored by Penn State University in the United States.

It is believed that the ability to handle pain exerted from undergoing diamou exemplifies one’s resilience in the face of hardships of life including childbirth, raising children and taking care of her household.

The practice of gum tattooing begins with mixing charcoal and oil and with the help of a needle pricks the gum of the patron several times to create seven layers of dyed gum. This is a simple step if you are harnessing the opportunity to have your gum tattooed. The diamou is carried out using a black powder and a mixture extracted by burning oil and shea butter.

The next step is for the patron to rest their head on the tattoo expert’s lap with a face overlooking the skies while the black substance is applied to the gums.

After this, a piercing needle-like instrument is poked into the gums to give it a black outlook. Do not be mistaken, from the beginning of the first layer to the last leaves gum tattoo lovers in excruciating pain.  

Women in ethnic tribes like Thies do not consider this procedure as extreme, but, an opportunity to wear a beautiful smile that will radiate their sparkling teeth.

The exercise is not carried out in a parlor. These gum tattoo artists operate from either an alley or their homes. Many do not do it for the financial incentive, but, in preserving tradition. It generally costs a little over $1 for the gum to be tattooed.

There is the fear that if it is not preserved among the youth, a tradition that has been handed over from generation to generation will go extinct.

The procedure is not only targeted at beautifying oneself but to improve oral health. Some women are quoted in Penn State University’s blog on diamou as saying that they do not experience gum bleeding or bad breath after the exercise.

This craze underlying diamou is the perception that dark gums compared to red are rare and makes a girl distinct when men are looking out for what stands out in a woman. Those who endure this pain and maintain seamless composure are certain of the ability to go through painful moments in life without flinching.

Many gum tattoo artists are worried that fewer young girls are patronizing the culture with fears rife for its future.

Though the practice is meant for only women, some men in Senegal participate in it for dental care and treatment for loose teeth.

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