Tchoodi: Why Fulani women are willing to go through so much pain to tattoo their lips

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe October 11, 2022
Fulani woman from Niger. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Steve Evans

Everyone has a reason for getting a tattoo. Whether it’s to remember a dear one, to keep a memory alive or just the sheer excitement to get beautiful art pieces on body art, people make their choice. The body houses all the inked-art pieces and depending on where it’s located, people get to be so beautiful. Tchoodi: Why some Fulani women are willing to go through so much pain to tattoo their lips

The body housing inked-art pieces are normal, but a teeth housing ‘art?’ That’s mind-boggling for some and raises a lot of questions at the thought. In Mali, the Fulani women tattoo their gum with ink, not for fashion purposes or artistic purposes, but to make their teeth white. Here is the thought behind the practice. 

The Fulani tribe is the world’s most nomadic ethnic group as they are found in several nations. Their culture as a whole is one of the most geographically dispersed and culturally diversified. Fulani culture comes in a variety of forms, but essentially, their culture is positioned to ensure that they always stand out beautifully. They never neglect caring for their body and their overall look. The Fulani do not joke when it comes to taking care of their outward appearance, hence they are quick to adorn their face and body and will go to great lengths to make themselves look ‘sparkly.’

In a tradition known as ‘Tchoodi’, Fulani women tattoo their lips and ink their gum to make them look more attractive. The ritual is a rite of passage for young girls to show that they reached womanhood. The ritual is performed by only women amidst singing and dancing. When a young girl reaches the age of 15, her gum, lip and chin are tattooed with ink to emphasize her white teeth. The tattoo is viewed as a mark of beauty and bravery for individuals who have them. It is believed that Fulani women are reborn to conquer the sorrows that dig through their fragile flesh in silence hence young girls who wince in pain during the process are frowned upon. 

Black lip tattoos are a symbol of beauty and bravery among the Fulani. To prevent derision or outcast status, young Fulani girls must have Tchoodi performed on them. The lips of the young girl are tattooed with a fine heated needle and a specific natural ink.

Fulani women with naturally red lips apply ashes and needles to blacken their lips. After applying enough black ashes to cover the entire lip, the tattooist hammers around the mouth with needle-enclosed equipment, and they consume only liquid pushed into their swollen mouth using a straw for three weeks. The first condition of beauty, according to the Fulani, is white teeth hence their need to ensure that the teeth of their women always stand out. 

Albeit unusual among other tribes, which is what makes culture different, the black lip tattoos make the child or young woman more appealing as a future wife to Fulani men. In addition, the tattooed lip is regarded as a sexual enticement, a symbol of womb fruition, and a symbol of beauty. Fulani females tattoo the bottom portion of their lips when they reach puberty, and once married, the upper part is tattooed to signal they are taken. Facial tattoo is a common identity among the Fulani tribe irrespective of the country they live in. It is a cultural identity they do not compromise on. 

So while others may tattoo their bodies and architecturally design art museums on their bodies for reasons that may have nothing to do with beauty, the Fulani on the other hand want to smile and have their teeth sparkle as the sun hits them. Therefore, Tchoodi is performed and after three weeks, with the swell and pain gone, the young girls, now more attractive, have their wholesome teeth to show to the world. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 11, 2022


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