From the traditional tribal cultures of different parts of the world, to modern day tattoo artists applying these styles in new and creative ways – this article takes a look at how classic symbols have been given a contemporary twist. With examples from around the globe, discover why tribal tattoos are making waves across both civilizations old and new.
The Origin of Tribal Tattooing
Polynesia’s long-standing tradition of tattooing might be the most well known, but this practice has been around for centuries, adapted and practiced in many different areas across our planet. It’s a vibrant art form that showcases its intricate history through beautiful designs.
Tattoos have been a recognizable form of self-expression and communication for thousands of years. As far back as 3,250 BCE, archaeological evidence demonstrates that tattooing has existed in many ancient cultures across the globe.
Tattoos have been found on mummies in ancient Egypt, as well as on the bodies of preserved remains from many other cultures, including those in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
But it is Polynesian tattooing from which much of today’s tribal tattooing style derives its inspiration.
Polynesian Tribal Tattoos
Polynesian tribal tattoos were some of the first tattoos to be documented among indigenous cultures.
Ancient Polynesian tribes utilized tattoos to symbolize the many stages of life and commemorate special moments. Tattooing was an important part of cultural tradition – warriors celebrated their accomplishments, young adults regarded it as a rite-of-passage into adulthood, and married couples marked their long lasting union with intricate designs on skin.
From traditional geometric patterns and shapes to intricate designs, Polynesian tribal tattoos are a captivating form of body art. Drawn in black ink to represent elements such as the ocean and sun found within their culture’s landscape, they stand out boldly with great cultural significance.
For example, the “tiki” design represents the Polynesian gods, while the “koru” tribal tattoo design symbolizes new beginnings and growth. The koru (which is Maori for loop or coil) is a spiral shape that is based on a new, unfurling silver fern frond.
Samoan Tribal Tattoos
A Samoan tribal tattoo, also known as pe’a (for men) or malu (for women), is a traditional form of body art that hold significant cultural and spiritual meaning in Samoan society.
The pe’a and malu tattoos are typically large, intricate designs done in black ink that cover a significant portion of the body. They are considered rites of passage and are often earned through a lengthy and painful process of tattooing with traditional tools made of bone, tusk, and wood.
In Samoan culture, tattoos symbolize a person’s rank, status, and achievements within their community. They also represent their connection to their ancestors and the spiritual world. Each design has its own meaning and is often tailored to the individual who is receiving the tattoo.
For example, certain symbols may represent family, courage, strength, or leadership, while others may represent specific gods or deities. The placement of the tattoo on the body is also significant, with different areas representing different aspects of the person’s identity and role within their community.
Overall, Samoan tattoos are a deeply meaningful and important part of Samoan culture, and they continue to be highly respected and revered today.
Maori Tribal Tattoos
For centuries, the Māori people of New Zealand have been using traditional body art tattoos to express themselves and celebrate their heritage. These ornate designs carry deep spiritual meaning within an artistic form that has stood the test of time.
Maori moko tattoos offer a unique means of communicating identity, genealogy and social status. This spiritual practice has been an integral part of their culture for centuries, offering its participants deep personal significance through intricate designs.
Intricate swirls of patterns and symbols adorn our designs, embodying rich cultural significance for their wearers.
Through Maori moko tattoos, people can share their life stories in art form. These permanent markings act as beautiful visual narratives of the special moments and events that make up one’s history.
Maori tattoos feature symbols that reflect an individual’s heritage and significant life milestones, like marriage or the birth of a child. These intricate designs symbolize personal connection to one’s ancestors and homeland.
In Maori tradition, a moko tattoo is much more than simply an indelible marking – it’s a sacred rite of passage and emblematic representation of one’s familial roots and connection to the larger community.
Maori people today still proudly practice their ancestral tradition of moko tattoos, which allows them to express their cultural identity while honoring the generations that have come before.
Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos
With roots stretching back centuries, Hawaiians express their culture and spirituality through stunning tribal tattoos known as ‘kakau‘ – an ancient art that speaks of the profound spirit embedded in Hawaiian history.
Tattoos were more than just fashion choices – they symbolically marked special moments in a person’s life. From reaching womanhood or manhood to taking the next step of marriage, these intricate designs signified an individual had reached important stages and accomplishments.
Hawaiian tribal tattoos are more than just a visual expression of the culture – they possess spiritual meaning, often connecting people to their ancestors and gods. In Hawaiian tattoo designs, animals, plants and other natural elements come together in stylized geometric shapes that signify deeper beliefs.
Hawaiians traditionally marked their mourning through a unique form of tattooing–using small cuts and soot to create dark markings on the tongue. This practice produced artistic designs such as linear or dotted patterns, offering an evocative way for Islanders to show respect for those who had passed away.
The purpose of the tattoo was to show that the individual was grieving or mourning the loss of a loved one. It was also believed to help ease the passage of the deceased person’s spirit into the afterlife.
It’s important to note that this practice is not common in modern-day Hawaii, and many Hawaiian cultural practitioners and community members are working to revive and preserve traditional tattooing practices in a respectful and culturally appropriate way.
Marquesas Tribal Tattoos
In the Marquesan culture of French Polynesia, tattoos were seen as a symbol of strength, courage, and status. They were also believed to provide spiritual protection and help individuals connect with their ancestors.
The Marquesas region in Polynesia had a social structure that was decentralized and egalitarian, unlike other regions that were based on descent. Individuals could gain influence and power regardless of gender or ancestry by having ownership of property, being warriors or political leaders, or even by being female shamans.
Tiki is a culture hero in Marquesan art, believed to be the ancestor of men who taught the Marquesan people their traditional culture. Tiki images are used to commemorate gods and other legendary figures from the past, but also symbolize male generative forces and human creativity. The word ‘tiki’ can mean both “tattoo” and “to sculpt or draw”, so when placed on an object it references both life and death, creativity and the spiritual world.
The placement of tattoos on the body also had specific meanings. For example, tattoos on the face were reserved for individuals of high social status, while tattoos on the hands and arms were seen as a sign of bravery.
Filipino Tribal Tattoos
Philippine tribal tattoos, or “batok” and “patik” as they are commonly known in the region, have a longstanding cultural resonance. For centuries these designs not only decorated bodies but also served to represent one’s position within their local tribe or community – an identity that often went beyond skin deep.
Tattoos are a treasured form of art for many tribes, often constructed with natural pigments and hand-tapping techniques. The Kalinga tribe’s traditional “batok” tattoos signify the wearer’s bravery, accomplishments and rank within their community – not to mention symbolic ties to key elements from their culture like rice harvesting cycles.
The Visayan tribe’s patik tattoos are more than just body art – they carry a powerful, spiritual significance. Crafted to protect and empower the wearer, these traditional symbols represent strength, courage and resilience in the face of adversity.
Filipino tribal tattoos have surged in popularity, captivating admirers of body art with their unique and intricate designs. From locals to international enthusiasts, these creations are celebrated as one-of-a-kind works of art.
African Tribal Tattoos
African tribal tattoos have a rich cultural history and hold different meanings among the different tribes and cultures across the African continent.
In West Africa, the Fulani tribe uses tattoos to mark a person’s status within the community. Women in the tribe are often tattooed on their faces to indicate their cultural identity and as a form of beautification.
The Nuba people of Sudan also have a rich tradition of tattooing and scarification, with designs that often incorporate dots and lines. They use tattoos to mark important milestones in a person’s life, such as puberty or marriage, and as a symbol of identity and cultural pride.
Indian Tribal Tattoos
For centuries, Indian tribes have adorned their bodies with mehndi or henna tattoos. Using a paste derived from the henna plant and applied in intricate designs to one’s body, these traditional adornments symbolize beauty as well as a deep cultural heritage.
Mehndi tattoos are a unique way to commemorate the special moments in life, such as weddings and other celebrations. Drawing inspiration from Indian culture, these temporary works of art feature intricately beautiful designs with striking images like flowers and paisleys.
Mehndi tattoos are a meaningful cultural expression with deep spiritual roots. They often feature symbols like the sacred “Om”, which is believed to bring protection and divine blessings in Hinduism.
Native American Tribal Tattoos
The meanings and designs of tattoos vary widely among the different tribes and cultures across North America.
In some Native American cultures, tattoos were used to mark important milestones in a person’s life, such as reaching puberty, marriage, or becoming a warrior. The designs often incorporate images of animals, plants, and other natural elements specific to the tribe’s culture.
The Pacific Northwest was home to a unique culture of body art that saw individuals adorn their skin with traditional Haida tattoos (ki-da). These intricate designs adorned arms, chests, thighs and feet – some even chose to decorate the entirety of their backs.
Members of the Haida clans trace their history and connect to a variety of creatures or objects in nature through crests – symbols that bring together mythology, significant events, and natural surroundings. These crests provide an important connection between people and stories from generations past.
Examples of the Tribal Style Applied to Tattoos
Tribal tattoos are a bold style of body art that continues to be popular. With no particular culture attached, these designs feature an eye-catching use of black ink and can range from small markings to full backpieces. Whether it is for celebration or contemplation, tribal tattooing remains an influential form of self expression around the world.
Shark Tribal Tattoo
Manta Ray Tribal Tattoo
Scorpion Tribal Tattoo
Tribal Turtle Tattoo
Aztec Tribal Tattoo
Tribal Tiger Tattoo
Tribal Lion Tattoo
Tribal Heart Tattoo
Tribal Cross Tattoo
The world of tribal tattoos is an incredibly vast and varied one—from the Polynesian archipelago to the African continent, there are so many unique cultural traditions stretching back centuries.
Many cultures are experiencing a revival in tribal tattoos today, with those who choose to wear them making a bold statement and reclaiming their cultural heritage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Tribal tattoos have been used by global societies for many years to express their identity and culture. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential offense or disrespect that could come with appropriating another culture’s symbols without proper knowledge or respect. Before getting a tattoo, educate yourself on its meaning and history — ensuring your decision reflects your own beliefs & values is key.
It’s important to note that “tribal tattoos” is a term that has been used in the Western world to describe various styles of tattooing that have been inspired by indigenous cultures around the world. In many cases, these styles have been appropriated without proper understanding or respect for the cultures they are taken from.
With that said, Native American tribes have a rich history of tattooing, which predates the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. However, the tattooing traditions and designs vary widely among the many different tribes, and it’s important to avoid making generalizations about Native American tattooing.
Some tribes, such as the Haida of the Pacific Northwest, traditionally practiced tattooing as a form of personal and cultural expression. The designs often represented family crests, animals, or spirits that held significant meaning for the individual wearer and their tribe.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional Native American tattooing among some Indigenous communities.
Tribal tattoos have become increasingly popular worldwide, with people of all backgrounds flocking to this timeless style. Although membership in a tribe is not required for those wanting to adorn themselves with tribal ink, it’s important that its cultural origins be understood and respected before sporting one – otherwise the tattoo could unintentionally come off as insensitive or inappropriate.