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Project helps African-Americans identify with ancestors

The African Body Adornment Project dissects concepts about understanding ancestry

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Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:53 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Ever wondered where you get some of your habits, traits or cultural practices from?

For instance, what made the girl serving your $5 extra-hot latte place what appear to be “plugs” in her ear lobes? Are you sure what the true meaning of your recent tattoo is, and furthermore what made you decide where to have the design placed on your body? Have you ever thought about why you were so interested in a distinct pattern or design, or why you style your hair in a certain way?

According to Rozenia Johnson, founder of the MDUBA Associates, you are practicing “adornment,” which is “enhancing the appearance of a particular area on the body.”

MDUBA Associates is a Detroit-based organization that represents culture for the people of African descent by encouraging them to link the current rituals that they practice today to their ancestry, Johnson said.

MDUBA (pronounced MOO-JU-BA) began three years ago and means ‘homogenous ancestry’ in the language of the African tribe Fongbe.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology in a study conducted in 2004, out of 500 people between the ages of 18 and 50, 24 percent reported having a tattoo, and 14 percent had a body piercing in a location other than the ear lobe.

According to Johnson, tattoos are a way to adorn the body, like the Sudan tribe known as the Dinkahs who practice scarring along the foreheads of the women and men.

Curator and artist Johnson examines different cultural adornments and how to trance present adornment back to those from an individual’s ancestry.

“It can be the way a girl carries her purse, the spot where a tattoo is located on the body or even how individuals style their,” Johnson said. “All of those are acts of adornment, which can be traced back to your ancestry.”

Specifically, Johnson said, hair is sacred in the African-American culture and the reason could be traced back to the East African tribe called the Masai.

Masai men have their hair cut by their mothers to symbolize the death of their boyhood and becoming a warrior, Johnson said.

“This process is extremely emotional for the young warrior and his mother,” Johnson said.

Johnson, along with her organization, examines these and other acts of cultural adornment. Johnson specifically focuses on cultures that place distinct scars, markings and tattoos on their bodies like the Dinkahs.

According to Johnson, individuals knowing what the meaning of another’s tattoo or piercing may cause an individual to be “interested in learning more about their own ancestry.”

Johnson has transformed the methods of cultural adornment into a project called The African Body Adornment Project.

The importance of The African Body Adornment Project, according to Johnson, is essential because there are many young African-American individuals who don’t identify or know how to identify with their African ancestry.

The African Body Adornment Project dissects these concepts and teaches individuals about the importance of understanding and ancestry.

Adornment and body art have informed and shaped our historical and contemporary perceptions of the African body, Johnson said.

Johnson offers alternate ways for people to learn about their own culture.

“Seek out people in your family who are already started a preservation process, like those in those family members who save photographs,” she said. “If you don’t have that person, you should become that person because everyone has that missing piece of the puzzle, so try to find it.”

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