Tattoos are still a very rare thing in Rwanda, and part of the reason could well be that there are hardly any visible tattoo parlors. Eric Harimana is one of the rare tattoo artists in the country and considering that he started his business Lion Tattoo Ink (with a partner, Didier) in 1999, he might have been the first one.
Harimana, whose father is Greek and mother Rwandan, started doing tattoos in 1997 in Kampala. "I started by drawing pictures on paper and cutting them to see exactly how it would look on a body; I am quite artistic and the more I practiced, the more ideas I would get regarding what designs people would love on their body."
In Kampala his mentor was a certain Shadraq, who was himself a trailblazer for the art in Uganda. "When I decided to do tattoos, very few Rwandans were interested, so business was slow but with time, they got to appreciate it. Now, the majority of my clients are women, who want tattoos on their waists, legs and even in their face. Tattoos should be memorable, but for most of the women it's just for beauty."
As a professional tattoo artist, Harimana says he will never accept people younger than 18 because he believes that they are too young to understand what it means and, considering that the designs are permanent, might come to regret it later.
But even for older customers, he will always talk to them to check they are sure about the tattoo of their choice. "I usually advise my clients, not to get a tattoo they will regret. It should be a memorable design."
And while of course he enjoys the art of setting tattoos, Harimana is pleased to say that these days it also earns him some good money - although for the time being, he also has a job as a DJ. "If you think your dream is hard to reach, you are overwhelmed and forget to focus and do what you are supposed to do."
As for his tariffs, they start at Frw 30,000 and can go as far as Frw 90,000 depending on the design. "The size and colors of a tattoo matter, and the time it will take me. The biggest tattoo I did lasted a whole day and part of the night."
Here's hoping that that customer had chosen his design wisely.