My Tattoo

My Tattoo

I have a confession. I sometimes use the Ethical Ocean blog for my own personal gain.

For the most part, I’m learning and writing about issues that our members care about, be it developments in Fairtrade, innovations for social change, or world changing documentaries.

But sometimes, I use our blog as a sounding board. I share ideas, questions and thoughts that I’m personally struggling with, hoping the wisdom of the crowd can help me come to an answer.

This is one of those times.

For about a decade, I’ve been contemplating getting a tattoo. A tattoo with great meaning, meant to be an eternal reminder of what I believe in.

But I’m stuck. I know what it will mean to me, but I cannot decide what symbolism to include. The tattoo, which will be on my collarbone, shoulder and upper-arm will feature a central word: Mukanateli.

Mukanateli is a Lozi word meaning "a person who faces hardships, opposition and barriers in a fearless manner to achieve what they deeply and truly believe in." Lozi is the language spoken where I once lived in the Western province of Zambia. It was there where I truly began to understand the true hardships many people face and committed my life's work to driving change.

I believe in a world where everybody has the ability to live full, creative, dignified and happy lives. Due to extreme poverty, conflict, greed, culture, pollution, and ego and fear, this is not the case for millions of people. I have known for a long time that addressing these issues is my life's mission and purpose. When I'm old, if I can look back and know that I had a meaningful impact in this realm, I will die a peaceful man.

The barriers that I face in achieving these goals are both internal and external. Internally, I struggle with the discipline and focus to stay committed to my cause. I struggle with confidence in knowing when I'm doing the right thing. I struggle with balancing my own wealth, health, power, ego and humility. Externally I struggle with the expectations and demands of my family and my community, and with being consistent and coherent in all of my actions.

A Mukanateli is a person who conquers all of these fears and pressures to achieve their beliefs. When I look into the mirror, even as an old wrinkled worn out man, I want to see my tattoo and remember how important it is for me to try and make the world a better place.

I have wondered many times if perhaps I should just get the word ‘Mukanateli’ tattooed without any imagery – keeping it simple and clear. But I am attracted to symbolic imagery to make this tattoo something beautiful, rich with meaning, and creative.

These are the symbols I am considering, all important in helping me become a Mukanateli:

  • A Children's Eyes: When I look into the eyes of a child anywhere in the world, my commitment to making the world a fair place for them strengthens.
  • Bikes: I once rode my bike from London to Istanbul. It was the greatest adventure of my life. Bike parts symbolize the adventurous and fearless attitude I will need to break free from the conventional physical, spiritual and economic paths of life.
  • Iron Cross: An Iron Cross is a gymnastics move that requires great physical health, strength, and training. It symbolizes the physical and mental health that I must maintain to live a long and impactful life.
  • Arrows: Robin Hood used arrows to defy the dominant powers of his time to fight for equality and freedom of the poor. To achieve my life mission, I must not fear the authorities, norms, and systems that dominate our world.
  • Prairie Skies: I was born in Saskatchewan, in the vast Canadian plains. In Zambia, I also lived in the plains. The grasses and the night skies are the same in both places. The prairie sky represents both my home and my connectedness to every other person's home. We all share the same sky.
  • Baobab Tree: Baobab trees are a meeting place for communities in Africa. They provide shade and protection. They stand strong through generations. To be successful in achieving my mission, I will need to be part of communities, to listen and to collaborate with people.
  • The Globe: The problems that plague our world today, are not small, nor are they simple. They are interconnected and affect us all. To achieve my mission, I will need to think globally, travel the world, learn different languages, and most importantly, help bridge and build trust among different parts of the world.

So what do you think? How do I bring Mukanateli to life? A simple tattoo with the just the word, or something that combines symbolism as well?

October 1, 2012