Meet the Tattooed Berber Women of the Atlas Mountains

From the photographic series C’est Haram, documenting the dying tradition of facial tattooing of Berber women, Morocco, 2020.
From the photographic series 'C’est Haram', documenting the dying tradition of facial tattooing of Berber women, Morocco, 2020. | © Giulia Frigieri / Culture Trip
Josephine Platt

Commissioning Editor

Tattoos carry different weight from culture to culture. Photographer Giulia Frigieri explores the symbolism of the ancient Berber tradition of facial tattooing.

To visit a traditional Berber village, book Culture Trip’s six-day group adventure where you’ll get to meet the locals during a hike of the Atlas Mountains.

As it is with so many things in life, multiple meanings are attached to tattoos; they can represent a mark of unity or one of division. In Japan, for instance, tattoos are banned from public saunas due to their link to the underworld; in 1600, criminals were branded to separate them. Meanwhile, in Samoa culture, women are known for their intricate malu ink designs – usually below the knee to the upper thigh – to represent the protection, shelter and security that they provide the community.

In Berber culture – an indigenous Northwestern African group – the act of tattooing has also long been a stamp of cultural identity and womanhood: the different etchings symbolise a woman’s marital status, fertility and tribe. Typically, they decorate her face, hands and feet – though some women have been known to cover every inch of their bodies. But it’s a dying act among younger generations. These tattoos are now loaded with stigma and shunned as a sin against God. C’est Haram, as the wider Arabic culture calls it.

It’s this name that photographer Frigieri gave to her series that captures the few women alive today with such markings. Based in rural Morocco in the High Atlas Mountains, these women, now in their 70s, have a much different relationship with getting inked to the youth. To them, C’est pas Haram.

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