What level of discomfort are you willing to endure in order to have black gums, silver teeth, and a beautiful smile? To be considered beautiful in some West African ethnic tribes of Senegal, one must undergo a cultural procedure known as “diamou,” which literally means “gum tattooing.”
The age-old custom is practiced in communities such as Thies and is intended to entice potential suitors. According to a piece written by Penn State University in the United States, gum tattooing is not only a desire among Senegalese women to keep up with beauty trends, but also a test of one’s ability to withstand pain.
It is believed that the ability to handle pain exhibited by diamou exemplifies one’s resilience in the face of life’s difficulties such as childbirth, raising children, and caring for her household.
Gum tattooing begins with a mixture of charcoal and oil, followed by a needle pricking the patron’s gum several times to create seven layers of dyed gum. If you want to have your gum tattooed, this is a simple step to take. The diamou is performed with a black powder and a mixture derived from burning oil and shea butter.
The patron is then asked to rest their head on the tattoo artist’s lap, face up, while the black substance is applied to their gums.
Following that, a piercing needle-like instrument is poked into the gums to give it a black appearance. Do not be fooled, from the first layer to the last leaves tattoo enthusiasts in excruciating pain.
Women in ethnic tribes like Thies see this procedure as an opportunity to wear a beautiful smile that reflects their sparkling teeth.
The exercise is not done in a parlor. These gum tattoo artists work out of an alley or from their homes. Many do it not for financial gain, but to preserve tradition. Tattooing the gum usually costs a little more than $1.
There is concern that if a tradition passed down from generation to generation is not preserved among the youth, it will become extinct.
The procedure is intended not only to improve one’s appearance but also to improve one’s oral health. Some women, according to Penn State University’s diamou blog, do not experience gum bleeding or bad breath after the exercise.
This craze underlying diamou is the perception that dark gums compared to red are rare and makes a girl distinct when men are looking out for what stands out in a woman. Those who endure this pain and maintain seamless composure are certain of the ability to go through painful moments in life without flinching.
Many gum tattoo artists are worried that fewer young girls are patronizing the culture with fears rife for its future.
Though the practice is meant for only women, some men in Senegal participate in it for dental care and treatment for loose teeth.