The Meaning of Tribal Tattoos
Tattooing goes back thousands of years and tribal tattoos are certainly one of the oldest tattoo designs we know. The meanings of tribal tattoos vary depending on style, geographic location, and the time in history. Many tribes and cultures have practiced the art of tattooing throughout the centuries all over the world.
The Maori of New Zealand, tribes in the Polynesian islands, Micronesia, the Philippines, Borneo, the Japanese Ainu, native Indian tribes in the American northwest, as well as the Celts and other tribes in northern Europe, just to name a few.
Tattoos were found on a more than 3300 year old body which was discovered frozen in the ice of a glacier between Austria and Italy (Ötzi the Iceman), as well as on mummies in Egypt, and are believed to go back to the very beginnings of human civilization.
The tribal tattoo as we know it today is a result of tribal tattoos which belong to these ancient tribes. Modern tribal tattoo designs are probably most similar to the ancient tribal tattoos of Borneo and fuse with other tribal tattoo designs.
Here are some of the most influential tribal tattoos and their meanings:
Traditional Borneo tribal tattoos are thick black spirals and circles similar to what we call “tribal tattoo” in the modern western world today. However, the original Borneo tribal tattoo was focusing on nature designs like animals, trees, fruits, and leaves ... more
The Celts were a group of tribes living on the British islands during the Iron Age. (Around 1200 – 550 BC). Celtic tattoos are full of meaning and were used as symbols of social rank, rite of passage, or religious symbols. Celtic tattoos were also used to identify prisoners and outcasts, or were worn as badges of honor, symbols of fertility and power ... more
Haida tattoos are another form of tribal tattoos originating in the northwest coast area of the American continent. Haida tattoos are worn by men and women of the native Indian tribes ... more The meaning of the Haida tattoo is either family affiliation, or affiliation with a certain clan. Haida tattoos
The Maori in New Zealand are famous for their specific tribal tattoo designs which usually (but not solely) consist of circles and spirals, which form from the tattooed, as well as the non-tattooed parts of the skin ... more
Polynesia includes the following islands in the Pacific area: Marquesas’ Islands, New Zealand, Hawaii, Easter Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, and Tahiti. This is where the word “tattoo” was created from the word “tatau”. The meanings of these tribal tattoos vary throughout Polynesia and the Marquesas’ Islands, and many different tattoo styles can be found here ... more
Samoa is part of the Polynesian Islands and the place where the word "tattoo" originally comes from. The word tattoo originates in the Samoan culture as “tatau”. Just like tattooing in other Polynesian areas, Samoan tattooing was a ritual that was not lightly undergone. The traditional way of Samoan tribal tattooing is a lengthy and painful procedure ... more
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