Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina – War times are always turbulent, as today so in past! Long time ago, few hundred years ago, there was a Ottoman invasion on Europe. It was a great war that made impact on Balkans in cultural, mental and every other way! On example Croatian Catholic communities in Bosnia suffered a lot under the Ottoman invasion, with the most of them forced to convert to Islam. It was an typical oppression and so the Girls were raped, children were taken to Ottoman empire as slaves and Turkish Chiefs had the right to sleep with Christian women on their wedding nights before the bride’s husband even got a look in, horrible isn’t it?
In response to such violations, women took to tattooing themselves on their hands, fingers, chests and foreheads with crosses and other ancient ornaments. They did believe such practices would create a spiritual guard that would ward off the Turks, or would at least let people know they were once Catholic before undergoing a forced conversion…and it was successful in many examples, it was a passive resistance to an occupation!
At the height of the cult, mothers took to tattooing their children at home, usually before they were ten years old. The tattooing process involves using a crude needle and a special solution made of charcoal, grime, honey and milk extracted from the bosom of a lactating woman who has already had a male child.
“We used mother’s milk from the woman who has a male child because only that milk was good for tattooing,” claims Tea. “We also believe this kind of milk can cure eye pain.”
Although the cult outlasted the Ottoman oppressors, communist authorities made tattooed women targets of hate campaigns. Threatened and treated like criminals, they would often lose their jobs due to their religious allegiances. Eventually women stopped tattooing their children out of fear and the practice was more or less extinct by the 1950s.
One woman spoke to Tea in mystic tones about the tattooing process. “There was a paraffin lamp,” she began, “milk was taken from the woman who feeds a male child and it was mixed with the soot from the lamp. Then she took the needle, dipped it and tattooed a cross on my hands until the blood ran. My hand was numb so I didn’t feel anything. She wrapped it and I held it like that for one day without washing.”
Another woman was tattooed at the age of six. “I was just a little girl and wasn’t going to school. My tattoo was done at some festivity – my sister was supposed to have hers done, but she was scared and put me forward instead.” Punked!!!
Tattooing was necessary during the Turkish occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina so that the children could be protected from kidnapping. Many had their names or initials tattooed into the skin to prevent their identity being taken from them.
Tea herself has not yet been tattooed. “I would love to one day,” she told me, “but only using the tattoos of my people, because they are a part of our identity and carry the meaning that no other tattoo could have for me. If I have children one day, I will give them these tattoos for protection, so that they know who they are. I would like them to be tattooed with mother’s milk, as it was always done. The only problem is we would have to have some help from a modern tattoo artist, because the people who knew how to do it the traditional way are not alive anymore.”