black jewlery

Fulani noblewoman with tattooed lips and gold earrings, from a large semi-nomadic pastoral settlement

Fulani (Peul, Fulbe, Fula) women of this region often tattoo their lips, gums and the area around the mouth before marriage, a painful aesthetic practice and rite of passage signifying marital status. The extravagant gold earrings or “kwottenai kanye” symbolize the wealth and prestige of a husband or family based largely on the ownership of cattle among the semi-nomadic pastoral Fulani of this region. The earrings are also an aesthetic symbol of cultural pride and identity. They are usually a gift from a husband to his wife or an heirloom passed on to a daughter on the death of her mother. The large earrings are made by local smiths or artisans concentrated mostly in the Mopti region of northern Mali. They are crafted from a 14-karat bar of gold that is first chiseled and heated over a fire, then hammered into thin blades and twisted into a four-lobe shape.

Location: Mopti, Mali

Photographer: David Schweitzer