Wednesday, April 11, 2018

No You Can't Have a Tattoo!

His father's name in Adinkra symbols that personify his essence.

He knew I was opposed to tattoos and so was his father.  Where was this coming from? I know, those darn rappers, basketball players and football players.  Peer pressure too, that's it.  Why in the world do you need a tattoo, I asked over and over again? I want something to represent my father, he replied repeatedly.  I'm thinking that a picture should be enough.  Besides his father and I had many conversations about our disdain for tattoos and pierced ears on men.  But he wanted it for his 17th birthday.  I had no intention of giving him permission, but I went along for the ride.

The Research

In 2015, KingMan completed a rigorous 6-month rites of passage that included the study of African proverbs and Adinkra symbols.  Adinkra symbols originated in Gyaman, a former kingdom in today’s Cote D’Ivoire.  In the 19th century the Asante people began painting symbols of Gyamans (former king) on a cloth.  Adinkra means goodbye or farewell in the Twi language of the Akan people.  These cloths are worn during special occasions.  These Adinkra symbols express themes that relate to history, beliefs and philosophy of the Akan people.  Adinkra symbols have a rich proverbial meaning.  In doing his research he pulled out his Rites book and began researching the symbols and selecting specific symbols that personified the essence of his father.  Okay, so now KingMan was not  playing fair.  He was appealing to my intellectual, love of history, African cultural and meaning weakness.

The Artist

Unbeknownst to me, he had already asked his childhood friend, who was like a sister to him, to start creating the art for his tattoo.  These two grew up together.  The only time he played with his art supplies that I kept stocked in our home was when Yetunde came to visit.  Today, Yetunde is an amazing artist who was accepted into one of the nation's top art schools.  Now there was layered meaning to his request.  I felt my knees wobbling.

The artist all grown up.

Yes, this is one of Yetunde's creations.  She is amazing, creative, smart, athletic and humble.  All of this is important when choosing an artist who will create something so meaningful.  You can find her work on Instagram at Yesap. I digress.

The Finished Art

KingMan had really been working on me and I was teetering, but still not there.  Tattoos are so permanent.  He wanted it on his forearm and I'm thinking about the company picnic.  What will your boss think? He replied, "Mom I'm going to be an engineer and have my own firm."  Ouch.  He really knows what to say.  He could be a politician too because he's such the negotiator!  I'm not going to lie, when he revealed the art work, I paused in mid-sentence and could not keep my mouth from dropping open. How could I say no? It was absolutely divine.  It was unique.  It was meaningful.  Yetunde had spelled out his father's name in Adinkra symbols that personified the essence of his father.  I was done. I was a complete knock out.  He had won me over.  Until we reached the tattoo shop.

The Big Reveal

Of course there was one more debate to be had.  This time it was over the size of the tattoo.  KingMan wanted 10 inches and I wanted 4 inches (smaller of course).  This debate raged on for about an hour in the tattoo shop while he waited his turn.  So we decided to allow Baba Mahiri to decide what size.  Baba M (as he is affectionately known) a master West African percussionist, is his drum professor and mentor.  He's known him since he was 7 years old.  We trusted his wisdom.  Baba M replied to our text with 6 inches - a compromise, right in the middle.  Then I played myself.  I sent Baba M a text of the art work.  He thought it was breathtaking and asked what it meant.  When I told him, he replied, well make it 12 inches!! The battle was officially lost.  I lovingly gave in because in truth, I could not really be upset about something that meant so much to KingMan.  More importantly, it would be a daily reminder of his father whom he lost at the tender age of 13.


  1. It's definitely a fad. I made my son wait til he was 18 years old and could pay for it himself. Even now, at 23 yrs old, he tells me he wished he would've waited. I think the reason why he feels that way is because he is a much different person (maturity wise). He still likes his tattoo he just said he would have done a different design.

  2. It is a gorgeous design and is imbued with love and grace. Amazing art. And thumbs up to Zion for honoring his father in such a heartfelt and profound way. Love you all, Mama JuJu