“Tchoodi” Facial Tattoos in Mali

Warning – this article contains graphic content. It’s not for those with a weak stomach.

While visiting Bôkôlô, we were lucky to witness a unique ritual. We were sitting under a tree with the old men, chatting about water problems, when we heard drums on the other side of the village. We walked over to see this remarkable tradition:

(video)

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Throughout West Africa, many Fulani have facial tattoos as a sign of their cultural identity. In Mali, women tattoo their mouth and lips, a tradition known as “Tchoodi”.

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The black circle framing her mouth draws attention to her white teeth and beautiful smile. Her tattoos make her more attractive to men.
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The ritual is performed exclusively by women, and we felt honored to have been invited to document it.
The tradition serves as a right of passage, a sign that girls have achieved womanhood.
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On this particular day, three girls received Tchoodi tattoos.

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Natural ink is spread on the lips, and the skin is repeatedly pricked with a needle, imbedding the pigment in the skin. The process causes immense swelling.

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Fully conscious, she remains calm throughout the process. Her stoicism is a marker of her bravery.

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Mother and daughter, both of whom performed Tchoodi when they were younger.

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Fatimata explained that girls must perform Tchoodi to avoid the mockery of their peers.

While the practice is certainly painful and may seem brutal to outsiders, the Pulaku Project doesn’t aim to judge what’s good or bad. We’re here to observe and document the richness of Fulani culture, and the Tchoodi tradition certainly falls into that category. As one woman, explained, “there is no place for fear in our culture… we are proud to display our identity.”  Much like the Goja Ceremony that we documented in Benin, this tradition is often criticized, but it remains an integral aspect of Malian Fulani culture.

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8 Responses to ““Tchoodi” Facial Tattoos in Mali”

  1. Ramata BARRY TRAORE says:

    Hi !

    These young and beautiful girls are extremely courageous and they deserve congratulations from us. But, I would like to know if these women are aware about HIV disease or not? I think tabitaal-pulaagu of Mali should tell them about the risk of contamination whith the blood which can happen during this tatoo’s ceremony. Thanks.

  2. ka says:

    On est fièr et chaque éthnie doit respecter la tradion des autres éthnies.

    Nous sommes peulhs ne signifie pas que nous existont simplement parmi les etres

    vivants…..! Non ça signifierait malgré la dispertion que nous sommes riche surtout en ce qui
    concerne des connaissances ,grandeur d’ame et des secrets tradionnels mysterieux. De sorte

    que les restes ont duent mal à savoir et connaitre la réalité et la potentialité qui se

    cachent dans cettes connaissances cette grandeur d’ame et ces secrets mystiques qui sont

    cachés dans le : (NOUS SOMMES PEULHS)

  3. Merci pour le message ! Nous espérons que ces histoires contribueront à la fierté du peuple Peul.

    -Christoph et Guida

  4. Emily says:

    As a RPCV from Senegal, having lived in a Pulaar du Nord (Toucouleur) village, I think it’s important to note all of the opportunities for infection and transmission of disease afforded by traditional tattooing. It is incredibly painful, and depending on the community, it is not a choice. Girls who cry can be mocked for the rest of their lives because “they were not brave.”

    I always laughed when women told me I should get my lips and gums tattooed (just my lips and gums because I’m young and the larger tattoos are no longer in fashion where I lived). It is wonderful to have traditions, but it is also important to recognize the dangers of those traditions and the meaning of group identity when it is a forced identity.

    Pulaars have so many rich and wonderful traditions. I hope that this tradition will be safe (not with a dirty stone fished out of an old woman’s pocket) and that girls can choose it, not when they are 10 or 11 and pushed forward by their grandmothers, but when they can decide how they want to display their group identity and permanently decorate their bodies.

  5. Marie says:

    Est-il nécessaire de souffrir pour affirmer son identité ?
    Pourquoi porter au nues une pratique abominable, comme en témoigne les photos ? Un tatouage externe avec du bleu de méthylène suffirait amplement !
    POUR INFO : Pratiqué chez les Peuls et Toucouleur, ce tatouage féminin dont les photos ici présentes sont très explicites, s’obtient au moyen d’aiguilles piquées autour de la bouche au préalable humectée avec du bleu d’antimoine (pierre trouvée dans la brousse). C’est une opération très douloureuse qui provoque pendant quelques jours enflure voire suppurations, et il arrive que des jeunes femmes s’y refusent. Elles sont alors presque bannies du clan ou du moins sont sujettes à moqueries pour avoir offensé les traditions séculaires et manqué de courage (Cf. le film « Kodou » de Ababacar Samb Makharam en 1971). Ce bleuissement des lèvres se fait à partir de l’adolescence et doit être renouvelé plusieurs fois.

  6. Mido yide aadaaji e fina-tawa Fulbe fof, yo Geno Barkin on… On jaramaa

  7. Peeral says:

    Miɗo yiɗi ɗum sanne sanne, on jaaraama, on hollii cuucal, yo Alla reenu laawol Pulaaku haa poomaa (cay).

    Indeed it is a very fantastic culture of the brave and beautiful, these women are very brave and courageous to undergo Coodi. I am sure they are aware about the risk … but as we all knows Coodi tattoo tools can also be modernized just like any other tools used for tattooing around the globe. To me this is not cause for concern… let Tabital Pulaaku (or any other) help the conservationists of this culture modernize their tools instead of condemning the Coodi …

    Mi yettii on sanne sanne!

  8. HOULEYE says:

    Je suis peul ( fouta djalon et dakar). Ce tatouage n’est plus pratiqué chez les plus jeunes. Les lèvres et le menton bleus ce n’est pas beau du tout. A la rigueur un rouge à lèvre bleu ou noir suffirait plutôt que de se mutiler bêtement. On peut déborder sur le menton et même jusqu’au cou si l’on y tient vraiment.