The history of tribal tattoos is as deeply rooted as it was at the beginning of civilization. Tribal tattoos are evident in historical accounts from different places in the world.
Modern tribal tattoos are inspired by these ancient designs and are mainly derived from ancient tribal art. The cultures behind this tattoo style are the Aztec and Borneo cultures, Samoa, Hawaii, India, Polynesia and the Maori people of New Zealand.
The main components of tribal tattoo are solid black dots and lines, usually intended for ritual or sacred places. Some modern artists incorporate shades and colors to add a little spice to the design.
Different cultures have their own techniques and designs for their tattoos, and some still use their art to represent social status, family identification and rites of passage. In some cultures, tribal tattoos are used for what people believe to be medicinal benefits, while in others, they are drawn to represent a rite of passage.
History of tribal tattoos
Otzi the Iceman is probably the most famous man in the world of tribal tattoos. Otzi lived over 5000 years ago in a surprisingly advanced society. His body was found between Austria and Italy and he was covered with 61 simple tattoos, all made up of horizontal or vertical lines. It was found that each line was created by making small incisions and tracing charcoal.
The plants and herbs discovered with Otzi were notably medicinal and quite interesting, the tattoos on his body were aligned with acupuncture points. These are clues to life during the early stages of the Bronze Age, and it offered the world an exciting insight into how the earliest tribal tattoos were used, probably as a cure for illness or disease. pain.
Mummies have also been discovered with primitive examples of tribal tattoos from different places around the world, which date back to a variety of ages.
Some mummies in Egypt have been discovered with tattoos, the oldest showing a simple pattern of dots around the lower abdomen. A more recent discovery, however, showed a preserved body that had more complex designs such as animals, lotus flowers and the eye of Horus.
The woman, suspected of being a priestess, was allegedly mummified between 1070 and 1300 BCE. The ink on the priestess’s body is a revelation of the ritual and sacred symbology of the time, as well as of the ethnology behind the tattooing practices of various communities.
Tribal tattoo artists
Whang-od Oggay, a Kalinga tattoo artist from Buscalan in the Philippines, is probably the most famous tribal tattoo artist. She was 103 years old and is the last mambabatok. Mambabatok tattoos are made up of dots, lines and abstract symbols.
Haivarasly, or otherwise known as Aivaras Lee, uses the same graphic elements as Whang-od. He also uses large areas of black and shapes, creating larger work that often takes the form of combinations.
Interest in tribal tattoos has continued to grow during the 1990s to the present day. Many tattoo artists create their own interpretation of folk art or stick to the original art form.
Tribal tattoos cover a myriad of stories and cultures. Modern styles have emerged while many artists continue this age-old tradition. However, it is essential to research the background and history of the tribe whose tattoo you want to emulate. You may find yourself disrespecting a particular culture or tribe through cultural appropriation.
Tribal tattoo styles
Along with cave painting and pottery, tribal tattooing is one of the oldest art forms of humanity. They are found all over the world and can be traced back thousands of years.
Obviously, humanity has always had a deep need to express itself and find meaning, which was then reflected through murals on caves and tattoos on bodies.
Tattoos continue to be a means of artistic self-expression that is informed by a multitude of folk arts and aesthetics. Tattoos have grown in popularity to such an extent that they have become a symbol of contemporary pop culture.
This is clearly evident in a constantly evolving technological world and the emergence of an online culture where materials, techniques and information are shared freely.
However, artists continue to push the boundaries while staying true to black lines, dots and abstract shapes. They form new symbols by fusing their own personal style with influences from ancient tattooing.
Types of tribal tattoos
There are different types of tribal tattoos and we will highlight six of them:
Samoan animal abstract style
It is probably the most popular tribal tattoo style. Samoans have a set of models dedicated to both sexes. Male designs are generally inked toward the lower parts of the body to symbolize protection from wild animals and the sea. They are generally large and less complex than female models.
The Marquesan cross, sunbeams and oceanic whirlpools are examples of popular Samoan styles.
Maori facial tattoos
According to Maori culture, the head is a sacred part of the human being; therefore, many tattoos were drawn on the head. For someone to have a tattoo on their face, it symbolized social status, rank, prestige and a rite of passage for a few elected officials.
Maori tattoos are so complex that no tattoo looks alike. Maori artists sculpt shapes and figures on the skin with scissors and knives, so be aware that if you have the Maori tattoo done by a native, it could be quite painful.
Celtic cross and knots
The Picts are an ancient Celtic-speaking tribe from Scotland. Their name is literally translated as “painted people”. The tribe was popular before the state religion was taken over by Christianity and tattoos were then considered taboo.
The fact that prisoners and rebels from society have been the most common tattoo wearers in the past two centuries has helped to reinforce this taboo exclusion.
The Celtic tribal design is characterized by its cross and its knots. Birds and trees are also represented in the ancient Celtic culture. You can feel a deeper religious influence when you encounter Celtic tattoos, such as those designed with a pair of wings.
Iban floral-inspired patterns
Iban tattoos draw a lot of spiritual energy from animals, plants and humans. The Dayak-Iban people have made the floral motif common in their culture.
The Iban tattoo is normally placed on the back of the shoulder, chest or legs and is normally drawn in a large size using a black color. It can take around 8 hours to draw a large Iban tattoo on the skin.
Eye of Horus
Tattoos were a sign of social status in ancient Egypt. Warriors and those with noble blood could wear tattoos. The place where tattoos were placed on the body also gave body art a deeper meaning.
The Eye of Horus, as a tattoo, is inspired by an ancient Egyptian belief that gives the symbol the ability to protect the wearer from evil spirits. The ancient Egyptians were not restrictive against tattoos and drew other religious symbols such as Neith, the goddess of war, normally seen on Egyptian men, as evidenced by the archaeological finds of the mummies.
Modern Tribal Tattoos
Modern tribal tattoos have a neat appearance with large, thick lines that emphasize the muscles of the body. Modern tribal tattoos are masculine in appearance and are generally worn by gym goers, wrestlers, and male athletes.
The designs that dominate this style involve tigers, millipedes, dragons, spiders or a phoenix. You can however opt for more abstract patterns such as swirls and curves, geometric patterns, bicep sleeves, vertical masks and shields.
Choose an appropriate tribal design
The critical thing to consider when selecting a tribal tattoo is the outline of your body. The lines of the tattoo should follow and accentuate the shape and movement of the body part.
Another thing to think about is the simplicity or complexity of your design.
Men tend to opt for thick lines and pointed shapes, while women prefer swirling patterns and finer lines.
There are no specific restrictions as to where you can place a tribal tattoo on the body. Those who prefer to have larger tribal tattoos usually have them done on the back. Men generally prefer to have them on the upper back while women prefer the lower region.
Some of the smaller tribal tattoos look great on the wrists, fingers or the side of the hand. For those who want to channel the energy of the tribal warrior, feet and legs would prove to be good options. People who want a tribal tattoo as large as a warrior’s body armor prefer to have the tattoo on their chest.
All tribal tattoos, in the end, have a special meaning that applies to a particular culture / tribe. It is crucial to observe respect at all times as they bring physical strength or spiritual energy to certain indigenous cultures. For this reason, choose a tribal tattoo that reflects your own beliefs so that it is meaningful to you and the people around you.