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

Africa | Especially large kwottenai kanye are worn by Fulani women in the towns of Mopti and Jenné. They are received by a woman either on the death of her mother or as a gift from her husband who often has to sell cattle to be able to afford them. the top of each earing is bound with red wool or silk to protect the ear, and the blades are incised with patterns, some of flowers, others of cattle. They are usually made of 14-carat gold and today the largest are valued at between £1500 and £2000 according to the weight of gold, the craftmanship being of little monetary value. They are made by the local smiths: a bar of gold is chiselled and after heating in the fire is hammered into thin blades and twisted into shape. Small gold rings and earrings are sewn to the hair and used to decorate the ears.  | ©Angela Fisher, Africa Adorned, 1984