Ugandan youths getting bolder with tattoos

Brian Agaba, 21, proudly shows off a tattoo of a dragon on his right upper arm.

“It represents boldness,” he said.

“I am tough.”

He said the tattoo cost him only Shs 10,000 (roughly $3) and it took less than 30 minutes to get one.

The tattoo was crafted by an artist using a machine with a needle and black ink.

“It was painful at first but now I feel fine,” he said with a smile.

Agaba said part of the reason he got a tattoo was due to peer influence as most of his friends spot them.

In years gone by, it was abominable for Ugandans youths to spot tattoos or wear an ear ring. 

Society used to look at such practices as a form of deviance and those with tattoos went to great length to conceal them, for fear of isolation.

Not anymore.

From musicians to sports icons to local celebrities to ordinary youth, tattoos are now the in-thing.

Barbie Kyagulanyi wife to Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, a prominent local musician and politician, famously spots tattoo of the face of her husband on her upper back. And she likes to flout it.

Similarly, Doreen Nabukenya (not real name) has a tattoo in a shape of a heart on her chest.

“It is a sign of expression of love for my boyfriend,” she said proudly.

Nabukenya got the tattoo five years ago after meeting and falling in love with her current boyfriend.

Tattoos vary in shapes and sizes. Some of the popular tattoos in Uganda are those of ‘barbed wire’, the heart, snake, names of loved ones and tattoos of logos of premier league clubs.

One can get a tattoo from many hair salons and parlors in urban areas of Uganda.

However, there is an increasing number of mobile tattoo artistes who move with their tools of trade in small bag.

Most tattoos are permanent and can only be removed through skin surgery which is expensive.

So while someone might crave for a tattoo in his youthful years, later in life, they may come to regret some of the actions of their youths, taken impulsively.

For youths like Agaba, that does not worry them.

“I am sure that even when I hit 60 years I will be as fierce as a dragon,” he said with a smile, exposing a gap between his teeth.

Not right

Still there are voices of disapproval of the growing practice.

Imam Kasozi, a prominent Muslim cleric in Uganda said tattoos are a sign of moral decay.

“Young people no longer have proper guidance from their parents because they have abdicated this responsibility to schools and teachers, is why they do all those things (wear tattoos),” Kasozi said.

Kasozi also attributed the tattoo wave to social media and globalization where practices in one part of the world are replicated instantly by others in another part.

Sam Mugerwa, 65, said he would not approve of the practice.

“We like copying everything that is foreign without looking at the consequences,” he said.

Nabukenya said her mother would “kill her” if she discovered that she has a tattoo because she is a staunch catholic.

“I got it secretly. Only my sister and boyfriend know that I have it,” she said.

There are health risks associated with tattoos.

According to information from various medical sources on the internet, tattoos can damage the skin and cause complications like skin infections, burning sensation or swelling at the tattoo spot or lead to blood borne diseases like Hepatitis B.

Nonetheless, this has not put off hordes of youths like Agaba and Nabukenya from getting one.

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