The Meaning Behind North African Facial Tattoo's

Today modern beauty may be attained through make-up and Botox, once-upon-a-time for women in certain regions in Algeria, their tattoos permanently encapsulated beauty on their faces and gave them the sense of being a true woman. Elder women were tattooed in the 1930s and 1940s. In those times men desired women with tattoos. In fact, men wouldn’t even look at a woman without tattoos. Traditional facial tattoos served as markers of beauty, tying facial tattoos to beauty via femininity and womanhood. Several women interviewed remarked with pride that “a woman without tattoos is not a woman.”


Though it is unclear how each particular symbol signifies beauty, symbols show a strong correlation with placement. For example, if a sun symbol is present, it is placed on the cheek. Other symbols found commonly on the face include ain hijla (eye of a partridge), cinsla (chain) and thabanat (flies). In Berber culture, the partridge is considered a bird of great grace and beauty, and is thus associated with the qualities of a good wife. Its sharp eyes are also thought to be vigilant watchers against danger."


The tattoos told a story with the significance of symbols. It is important to note that facial tattoos are not the only tattoos a woman may have. Tattoos with placement on other parts of the body take on a whole new meaning.  Those on the breast, the back of the hand, or above the ankle promoted fertility and child health. Several had their entire forearm tattooed, and it was often filled with more literal symbols: scorpions, gazelles, camels, and watches.Due to a lack of doctors, tattoos often related to healing, fertility, and childbearing.


Whether on the face or body, traditional tattoos remained integral to the beliefs, related to environment, to ethnic identity , or sometimes moreso a regional identity and needs, of the time period. Although answers to symbolic meaning may be less concrete, the significance of the tattoos and the role they played in the lives of tattooed women is evident.


After reading more about the true meaning and origin of facial tattoo's, recording artist Sasha Chaa was inspired to create a meaningful symbol that she features and wears in her music video Belly Dancer. The tattoo she speaks of, is on her right cheek (corner of her eyes) and represents a statement "Just Be", being herself, being her dreams, being one with herself.

Sasha Chaa plays the role of “Calafia the Warrior Queen” in her latest music video Belly Dancer

The name of Calafia was formed from the Arabic word Khalifa (religious state leader) which is known as caliph in English and Califa in Spanish. The character of the Queen Calafia was first introduced in the popular novel Las sergas De Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián), written around 1500 by the original said Spanish author Garcia Rodríguez De Montalvo. Calafia was convinced to raise an army of women warriors and sail away from California with a large flock of trained griffins to join a Muslim battle against Christians who were defending Constantinople.


Calafia is bested and taken prisoner, and she converted to Christianity. She married a cousin of Esplandián and returned with her army to California. Boissonnade, Dean of Literature at the University of Poitiers, wrote that a fortified capital city in 11th century Algeria was built and defended by the Beni-Iferne tribe of the Berber people. This city was called Kalaa-Iferne or Kal-Iferne by the Arabs, and was certainly known at the time in Spain; today it is the ruins known as BeniHammad Fort. The Arab name of this fortress city likely inspired Roland and later Rodríguez De Montalvo, such that Kal-Iferne became first Califerne and then California. Similarly, the name of Calafia's monarchy, California, likely originated from the same root. California comes from Calafia and Califia has been depicted as the Spirit of California.

Discover the Origin of the Belly Dance

Belly Dancing originally refereed to the Arabic tribe, Ouled Nail Dancers of Algeria. The women used more abdominal movements as the term described “Belly Dance”. The most featured body part was usually the hips, however every part of the body is involved in the dance. At that period of time, woman were all trained in the art of dance and song since childhood. The practice of leaving their ancestral home and settling in a nearby desert town as entertainers was common. Belly dancing has become a social dance, and has spread through out the Middle East with the migrations of the Gypsy Tribes,in Europe, in Egypt and in India. Today, Belly dance takes many different forms depending on the country and region, both in costume and dance style, and new styles have evolved in the West as its popularity has spread globally.