Kheyriyah Qasim is a septuagenarian Yazidi mother of 12 children, originally from Sinjar, Iraq. Owing to circumstances earlier in her life her actual age is unknown. CREID heritage gatherer, Nadia Noori Saloo, speaks to her about her life and the meaning of her tattoos.
Men and women from religious minorities have from ancient times inked their bodies to proclaim their identity. The practice of religious tattooing dates back centuries. It is a mark of defiance, pride and solidarity in the face of adversity. This case study is part of a series on heritage tattoos from Egypt and Iraq.
Kheyriyah currently resides in a camp for displaced people, having escaped a forced marriage at the age of 16; an all-too-common occurrence for young – and especially Yazidi – women in her community. Perhaps due to this sense of dislocation early on, Kheyriyah places great value in the tattoo designs she treasures, one representing the moon as a sacred symbol keeping humans away from envy.
For her this design “shows how tattoos create meaning among people as [a form of] intangible folk heritage, a feature that has prevailed since ancient times up until now”.
Part of this may be in the traditional process of its creation, whereupon, according to Kheyriyah, “a portion of the mother’s milk is taken from the newborn. The popular belief about this is that the milk is fresh and healthy and gives more beauty to the tattoo”.
A similar technique was followed when tattooing the green dots on Kheyriyah’s hands, a common feature for Yazidi women and young girls who consider them to be a form of beauty and tradition; the expectant mother’s milk is taken and combined with a smoke dye to form a deep green colour.
There is a legacy of these dots in Kheyriyah’s family – an expression of heritage, in her own words – as her mother also had tattoos on her forehead, hands and feet.
Kheyriyah was interviewed and photographed by Nadia Noori Saloo as part of the CREID project to develop the capacity of youth to document their oral heritage under threat.