Body piercing and tattooing are the modifications done on the body through different techniques, such as, punching, cutting, branding and coloring the skin. Tattooing and body piercing are probably as old as the human civilization, and are practiced by many cultures since ancient times, for various purposes such as rituals, identification and displaying wealth & beauty. Body piercing and tattooing are different forms of art which are used to enhance beauty. These are also seen as the symbols of strength and belongingness. For some, these body modifications signify their uniqueness & individuality from others.
Body Piercing In Different Cultures
In body piercing, a part of the body is punched to create openings for jewelry; while in tattooing permanent markings are made by inserting ink into the layers of the skin. Body piercing has been practiced since ancient times when it was mainly practiced by the Egyptian royals, who used to pierce their navels. It was also practiced by the wealthy Egyptians, who want to display their wealth and highlight their beauty by wearing earrings. Even during Biblical times, body piercing was a sign of status and attractiveness. This practice was also common among ancient Romans, who used to pierce different body parts including the male nipples to show strength.
Gladiators, or the slaves, during the ancient times were forced to get their genitals pierced with a ring, so as to prevent them from having sexual intercourse without their owner's permission. Tongues were also pierced as part of religious rituals in many cultures, such as, Mayan, Aztecs and American Indian. Women of these cultures also had their lips pierced which were stretched to insert wooden, gold and jade plates. Tribes in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands used to pierce their noses with bones, tusks and feathers. The practice of piercing different body parts was not only used as part of religious or tribal rituals, but also to enhance attractiveness and sexuality.
The History of nose piercing in particular goes back to 4000 years ago in the Middle East. The Mughal emperors brought it to India in the 16th century. Nose piercing is believed to have some acupunctural qualities to it and help a female in easing the pain during child birth. This was practiced in the regions of Africa as well. In the African community it symbolized family status and wealth. It was gifted to newly married wives by their husbands and taken away in the case of a divorce.
Earlobe piercing is considered as the oldest form of body piercing. Ears were considered as an entrance to demons in primitive ages. Therefore, tribal people used to pierce their ears to keep demons and evil spirits away from them as metal was thought to be a powerful repellent. The sailors were famous for piercing their earlobes to improve their eyesight. In many ancient cultures, earlobe piercing was done at the onset of puberty, to declare the entering into adulthood.
Septum piercing is also one of most common piercings from the primitive culture. This was more famous among the warrior cultures. Mainly because it used to give the face a very fierce and aggressive look. This kind of piercing was famous in cultures like Aztec, Mayan, Incas, etc. Then there was nipple piercing that became very famous in 1890s, especially in France. The ‘bosom rings’ were inserted through the nipples on the breast. These rings enlarged the nipples and the breasts looked like they were in constant state of arousal. It made nipples more sensitive and sexually enticing. In the Victorian era, doctors used to prescribe nipple piercing to women with smaller breasts, to make them large especially to have heavy bosoms for lactation during breastfeeding.
Tongue piercing was taken in high regard in cultures like Aztec, Mayan, Haida, Tlingit, etc. The tongue was pierced in these cultures to draw blood out of it and give it as an offering to the gods. This blood was then given to the priests and shamans so that they can create an alternative consciousness for an individual to communicate with the gods.
Art of TattooingLike body piercing, tattooing also has its roots of origin in the ancient times. Tattoos were used for the purpose of decorating body through modification done by creating designs. It was also done for the identification and branding. The word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian term "tatau" which means "to mark something". This form of art was practiced for different rituals and traditions, such as, identifying a woman's skills. The symbol of skills in which she was proficient was tattooed on her forearm to increase her status as prime marriageable material. Making tattoos on the wrists and fingers was due to the belief of getting away from illness. Tattoos among all were mainly used to signify the membership of some particular society.