10 January 2007

Nigeria: Abuja's Tattoo Man - Mohammadu Nasir, Tattoo King


Mohammadu Nasir is also known as Abuja's Tattoo man. He learnt the trade in Sudan where he went to study, and tells this reporter a few secrets of Lalle, another quiet field in which he is very talented.Tadaferua Ujorha reports.

Is there a link between Lalle or Henna, as it is also called, and love? Mohammadu Nasir thinks there is a link, and repeats the point to the reporter. A gentle wind begins to course through the Millennium Park, Abuja, as though confirming the point he just made. He is an expert on the art of Lalle, and actually looks like a bit of Lalle which has taken on form. His gentle voice, light step, roving unpredictable eyes and slim frame, together with a boundless enthusiasm for life, assist in creating this impression. Never has a man's form agreed so beautifully with his talent and trade. Some of his fans call him the Tattoo man out of respect for his talents, while others refer to him as Lalle designer.Lalle is an art, he says, and stresses that he can do a special type of Lalle which can assist a girl who is in search of a lover. It seems he is also becoming popular in this respect. He tells the reporter that in the first week of 2007 he has already helped six ladies by this remarkable silent process to find lovers. All he needs is his dark ink and the usual tools, and a lady can be set on the flowery path to true Love. This interview took place on January 8.At this rate he would have united 365 couples by the time the year is through,if one works on an average of one new lover found each day. This would certainly make Mohammadu not only a master of the art of Lalle,but also a modern day Cupid,who uses Lalle or art ,to unite lovers. Cupid, the Roman god of love is popularly believed to shoot arrows into the hearts of humans, thereby uniting them in love. This makes Mohammadu, a black Cupid, endowed with all the skills and precision of the original, minus the bow and arrow. According to him'There is one leaf of Lalle ,which if applied ,the lady can find a lover,and it has worked.I have done it six times already this year,and all the six ladies have phoned back to say they have found lovers.Interestingly,these ladies reside in different parts of Abuja, and do not even know each other.They are Igala ,Fulani and Igbo ,in terms of their origins. 'He adds that when a lady makes a request for this sort of Lalle,he would then ask her questions relating to the kind of lover she used to have,if she ever had one,that is.Anyone who is deep in the Lalle business is also gifted in the knowledge of the healing properties of plants and flowers,he tells this reporter.You cannot be in one without having a foot in the other,he repeats.His words'I know about leaves.Anybody who stays long doing Lalle,will know about leaves and their healing or curative properties'.But he would not reveal the names of the particular leaves which he uses to assist an individual who is seeking a lover.He states that he also has some secrets of the trade which he cannot readily reveal,for that would be to reveal a major strength of his to another rival in the art.According to him'We do not directly say how we mix the Lalle.We have professional secrets'.Some ladies whom this reporter interviewed also agreed that there is more to Lalle than meets the eye,especially in the context of love ,as above.But a few ladies disagreed ,saying there is nothing to it,and that Lalle is a simple effort at beautification .Some however said that some husband's do ask their wives to do a bit of Lalle,especially as a marriage matures.

Mohammadu Nasir went on to show that there is a slight difference between tattoo and Lalle.According to him this lies in the fact that Lalle is done mainly on the hands, while tattoos are done on various parts of the body which may be the shoulder. The tattoo could be a butterfly,a leaf or a flower.Born in Katsina state,he learnt the art of Lalle while in the Sudan where he lived for some years.He went to Sudan when he was 9 years old,and the trip was principally made on a quest for additional Islamic studies.His words'I went to Sudan for Islamic Studies.So when we were doing Islamic recitations,I read very well,and I read the Quran about seven times from the beginning to the end.We normally call this Sauka in Hausa , which describes a situation where one reads the Quran from the first chapter to the end'.Later while in Sudan ,he had experience as a bus conductor,and soon moved into the Jewellery trade. It was from this point that he turned to the Lalle business which has brought him great joy.His words'When I was selling jewellery,I used to go and meet women in Sudan who needed earrings,and that part of Khartoum is called Riyala.Then I met a man called Daoud who was in the Lalle trade.I used to see countless Women waiting for him.One day I went there and Daoud had travelled.On that occasion I did not go with my jewellery,but simply went there to learn the Lalle trade. 'He adds that there are different forms of Lalle which have varying characteristics. Some would last for six to seven hours before it would stick on the body, while there is a type which can catch or take on form in 10-15 minutes. According to Mohammadu he learnt Lalle in six years in order to be perfect. 'All the people here in Nigeria, or even Sudan if I do Lalle for them, if they take it to someone else, it will be difficult for them to copy or imitate mine. Any lady I design for will like it, and she will not be annoyed'. The prices for Lalle also vary as well as its duration.Lalle can last for sixty days, and there is a type that can last for one month, six months, as well as one year. According to Mohammadu'This also depends on the amount charged. We charge one hundred and forty naira per hand. We also charge 500 naira per hand for the Lalle which lasts for 60 days'.

Speaking on the practice of Lalle in both Sudan and Nigeria,he says that there are a number of significant differences.One of these is the fact that in Sudan there is a well defined place where persons who do Lalle can be found.All a customer or client needs to do, is to go to that place to meet those who are skilled in Lalle.This is unlike Nigeria where those skilled in Lalle walk about advertising their talent.His words'In Sudan there is a place where if you want to have a design done for you, if you want to call people to do Lalle for you,you know where to go and call them.'Mohammadu says that the people of Sudan regard Lalle with some seriousness ,and says that the Sudanese women give it a pride of place in their lives. His words 'Some Sudanese women think that if they do not use Lalle, it may be hard for them to get married in time.According to their tradition Lalle makes a young woman attractive'.But he adds that already in Nigeria some people are already thinking along these lines.He also shows that Lalle in Sudan is not necessarily cheaper than what obtains in Nigeria. In Sudan, he says poor people could invite one to a wedding, and make payment by providing a gift of yards of cloth, while the rich may give money, he says.' But in Nigeria, the rich will ask how much you will charge to do Lalle for a young bride'. According to him in Nigeria people do more of the Lalle designs than the type seen in Sudan, and there is more courage here, he says. His words 'Once I was invited to Kaduna ,where I designed for a woman who wanted Lalle that would stretch from one arm to the next, but in Sudan it can only rise just a little above the ankle and the hands'.

He tells this reporter that both Tattoo and Lalle are done by ladies as simple decorations, but he says that some people do the Tattoo to also show their status in society.Then there are a few extremes as well According to him some people would even have a lover's name done on his or her body as a tattoo, or even a girl could have her lovers name done as a tattoo on her body. 'They can put butterflies, or even the drawing of a heart on the body.Tattoes indeed are related to love,and a girl can be encouraged to get married on account of Lalle.With the aid of herbs,he says, a man could also stay with a lady he loves ,and the couple would not have any disagreement. Is this a herb which calms the nerves? Mohammadu also says that those who initially began the Lalle business were Muslims,but today more people from different backgrounds have entered the trade,making it a national art,one which has a capacity to unite the country further.This indeed is a quiet unifying art.In Abuja there are a total of five men in the Lalle trade,and a good relationship exists between them and the women who are a majority in the business in Abuja. Mohammadu's rare talent has allowed him to rise highly in a field which may actually be a terrain for Women much more than men.He shows that the association may not be like other associations in the FCT,but that younger members of the group are given a lot of encouragement by the more senior members. It is also a means of maintaining standards, he adds.Lalle has played a lovely role in keeping the home front, he proudly states. Married with four children, the proceeds from Lalle have assisted in paying school fees for his children. He has also built a house in Kaduna, and will soon go on Pilgrimage to Mecca.Lalle would certainly put him on that flight, he implies. He says'I am married with four children, and Lalle feeds all of us. I do Lalle for my wife, who does not allow me to go out except if I have done Lalle for her'. Clearly Mohammadu has no regrets for being in the Lalle trade, which he has embraced for the past 17 years.Right now he is planning to go back to Sudan to replenish his stock of Lalle.The lot he brought some 4 years ago has almost finished,he says.

He now speaks on other forms of Lalle which are becoming very popular. There is the perfume type, as well as the one which needs to be soaked in hot water.One type of Lalle needs smoke in order to bring out the colour of the Lalle.Another type has to be peeled off,and then the design will come out,and there is still another which needs the use of hydrogen for its beauty to emerge,and this,he says ,is the cheapest type of Lalle.In Nigeria Lalle is very popular among Women in the far north, but it is a culture which is spreading fast across the country. It tends to be a very visible practise at weddings, where in some places, such as Borno, the bride is given a lavish Lalle decoration, to mark her new status .Among men, Tattoo is also becoming a popular culture as well.

At 42, with his wife and family behind him, and Lalle by his side, Mohammadu can speak of many happy years to come.

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