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Photo Essay Friday

Photo Essay Friday: Garden Route Ink

Ink.
Tat.
Tramp Stamp.
Thot Graffiti.

Whatever you might call them, chances are you have strong opinions about tattoos. The art form has been around for centuries, with evidence dating back to 3370 BC. Their uses are myriad: as ethnic identifiers; beautification; to release healing or ward off sickness. Tattoos have been used to brand marked for death…or to indicate how many people have met their death at the hands of the bearer. Fortunately, this week’s PEF doesn’t center on such macabre details.

I have been a distant admirer of tattoos for many years. My attitude concerning permanent inking was definitely more liberal before I began regular church attendance (“Oh! What a pretty rose on your left breast!”) than it was after I got saved. (“Tattoos are an abomination…and you’re inviting demons into your life when you inject ink under your skin.”) My views have swung back the other way for many reasons, resulting in two 40cm long tats that I now proudly wear. I am fortunate in that I have been able to collaborate with a fantastic Cape Town based artist named Lushian, who has designed two incredible pieces for me.

Lushian of Pure Prophecy Tattoo Studio

It is inevitable that one begins to notice kindred spirits who share common interests, and as I have gone about daily life, I have begun to take note note only of the many different tattoos that wander around the Garden Route, but the type of people who sport them. The denizens of the Garden Route are generally very open about sharing the details of their lives with a stranger, and due to their generosity I am pleased to be able to bring you some precious stories. (I would’ve had more if I hadn’t forgotten to bring my camera on the numerous other occasions I left the house.) I’ll start with my own!

A woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.

There is a curio shop in Knysna in the Woodlands Mall where I buy the majority of my jewelry supplies and beads from. The attendant who runs it is a tall Coloured woman. Very straight laced and direct. I had not seen her since the pandemic began in 2020, so I noticed her ink right away.

“This is the first one I got. It’s of my kids. And it was very cheap! Only R300.”

Tattoos reveal as much about the wearer as the seemingly obvious messages they are meant to convey. Common examples on women are roses and butterflies, and are generally considered “safe” choices. Musical notes fall under this category. I asked the hostess at the cafe I’d met a friend at about her tattoos, as they were SO prominent on a body that was very small in comparison. Her story many me a little sad.

“This tat is of my family tree. I’m the last boy in my lineage. My name dies with me.”
“I thought you said you had two daughters?”
He nodded. “I do.”
“Then maybe one of them will choose to carry out your name. Your name doesn’t have end here.”
He looked at his girls and laughed. “Yeah. The youngest is a real hard ass. I can see her saying, ‘Screw it. I’ll do it!’ If there’s anyone who would think about keeping my name around, it’d be her.”

The roots of a family tree

There thousands of more stories told in pigment and flesh here on the Garden Route waiting to be discovered, and there’s no way I could capture them all in one piece. I’m curious about your thoughts, dear Reader. Do you have a tattoo? What’s stopped from or motivated you to get one? What’s the most interesting ink you’ve ever come across and why? Tell me in the comments or on the Twitters! 🙂

This article has 2 comments

  1. Wanjoro

    I don’t have a tattoo and never really thought about getting one. I do admire them on others. Yours is so lovely and even more beautiful is it’s meaning.

    • Malaka

      Thank you, Wanjoro! It really means a lot to me. Both of the ones I have do. It took me a long time gather the courage to get them (cultural and religious barriers) and they’re certainly not for everyone. But I share your admiration of them as well. 🙂

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