The History of Tribal Tattoos

Tribal style tattooing can mean any of a number of established styles for permanently marking the body. Most commonly, all these styles are primarily monochrome, being black and skin tone in nature. A lot of the inspiration for modern tribal tattooing can be found in the traditional designs of the Pacifc Rim and Southeast Asia. Ritual tattooing was found throughout island cultures, most all created with elaborate hand techniques evolving, producing designs of surprising complexity and graphic boldness.

The history of tribal tattoos can be credited to a great many people spanning hundreds of thousands of years Native American, Indigenous, African, Egyptian, Oceanic, Oriental, Buddhist, Tibetan, Samoan and Aztec to name just a few. As the art of tribal tattooing traveled across the world each tribe created their own style, their own method of tattooing and the meanings of each tattoo were altered to fit the beliefs and practices of each tribe.

It is thought that the first tribal tattoo most likely occurred completely by accident. Resulting from a fall into a fire causing a charred stick to penetrate the skin forever scarring the body. Many believe tribal tattoos were created as a way for early man to camouflage the body when hunting.

Tribal tattoos have been traced back to ancient times; the oldest ones were discovered on a Bronze Age man, found frozen in an Italian glacier. His mummified remains were exquisitely adorned with at least 57 tattoos resembling mythical creatures. 1500 Ice age rock carvings have also been discovered, featuring figures covered in tribal tattoos.

Tribal tattoos tend to resemble pieces of art from native and indigenous tribes. They can signify a clan or group of individuals sharing land and a sense of belonging. They may express ones personal beliefs or religious convictions, and are used to decorate the body and convey traditions.

Ancient tribal tattoos were most commonly done using a needle attached to a stick and by repetitively tapping into the skin. It is very important that they follow the proportion and contours of the body; the division of black and skin color must be well defined yet beautiful and meaningful to its owner. Tribal body art is designed to distinguish and separate various tribes or groups.

Traditional Methods of Tattooing:

With the gaining popularity of getting inked more and more people are wearing tribal tattoos. You can see them on the bodies of people all over the world. While today you don’t have to join a tribe to get a tattoo, you can walk into just about any tattoo parlor and get one, there are still tribes who follow the strict ceremonies and rites that surround the practice of tattooing.

Some methods include abstaining from water, food and sex. Other rites include getting a tribal tattoo due to a dangerous journey or completed task by a person that proves they are worthy of that tattoo. In most places though the tattoo is now done with a machine. In ancient times tattoos were created via a process called tapping. This is where the tattoo artist would use needles or pins or other sharp instrument and tap the end with a mallet into the skin of the person being tattooed. Other techniques involved cutting the skin and putting the ink into the cuts.

Traditional Tribal Purposes:

Tribal tattoos served a range of functions from magical protection to denoting social status or accomplishments. Wearers often sought to reaffirm their lineage and ancestors, or do honor to their Gods. The location and type of tattoo carried great significance, and was taken very seriously before the actual tattooing was carried out.

Celtic Tribal Tattoos:

The Celtic, once a dominant force in what we know as Europe were slowly and very violently pushed north west by the Romans, Angles and Saxons. The Celtic culture is rich with history and legend, but again as there were no classical written language tattoos were required to convey social messaging.

Celtic Tattoos typically know for their intricate knots, interlacing patterns, spirals and animals. Deeply spiritual meanings and significance the interwoven patterns and organic spirals indicate a never ending flow to the world as they viewed it. Today more commonly used as cultural and heritage markers (Scottish, Irish and some Welsh), Celtic bands.

Maori Tribes:

To the Maori tribes, tattoos represent the ideal of mastering inner strength. This group of people originated in New Zealand, and disappeared by the early 1900.s. Maori tattoos are acknowledged by their very prominent use of full facial tattoo or moke. Full leg tattooing incorporating a spiral theme is also common. Designs were never duplicated between tribal members as these tattoos embodied the individuals identity and place in the tribe enabling family and friends to recognize and claim their loved ones after death.

Marquesan Tribe:

These style of tattoos originate from the Polynesian Islands. They signify a language created as picture stories or symbols that represent the individual and or their place in the tribe or group, and allowed members to recognize each other. Some common tattoos favoured by the Marquesan tribe are shark teeth, which represents protection, shells symbolizing wealth, and  various animals and symbols such as lizards, whales, and turtles.

The art of Tattoo crosses all cultures and boundaries and in some cases artists have virtually replaced the need for doctors or Shamans in the western world.