Advantages of getting a tribal tattoo:
1.There's a lot of black ink in tribal tattoos, which has the advantage that it holds up very well, black tattoo ink doesn't fade as fast as other colors.
- Tattoo removal is not working very good on those large patches of black ink.
- Covering them up with another tattoo ain't working either.
- Finding a tattoo artist or tattoo parlor is not easy when you want a traditional design of a specific tribe.
- When you're getting a tattoo that is an imitation of a traditional tribal design, keep in mind that you might be insulting the original tribe members. This is especially the case with Ta Moko, which is a form of family and personal identification of the Maori people. Copying their designs is a form a identity theft.
- Identification: each tribe and family has its own tattoo motifs. Tribal tattoos read like a book: they tell a lot about the origin and the social hierarchy of the person who wears them. Tribe members can identify each other by their tattoos, in this life and in the afterlife.
- Social status: the style and size of a tribal tattoo says a lot about a person's social status in the group. A person with a big tattoo usually has a higher rank in the society compared to one with a simple tattoo.
- Rite of passage: getting a tattoo is part of the ritual that turns a boy into a man, a girl into a woman.
- Magic, healing and protection: tribal tattoos are believed to have magical powers. In some tribes the boy gets assigned a totem animal during his rights of passage. By tattooing that animal it is believed that the wearer inherits some of the powers of his totem animal.
Modern tribal tattoos are generally speaking not strongly associated with any particular tribe and are usually stripped of their social meaning. Tribals we see in the Western world today are often based on:
- Polynesian tattoo designs
- The tattoo designs of the tribes of Borneo, namely the Iban (Sarawak) and the Kayan and Kenyah (Kalimantan)
Luckily for today's tribal tattoo lovers, the methods used to apply the tattoos have changed. Bone needles and plant or animal dyes have been replaced by tattoo machines and the circumstances in which a tattoo artist today works are generally more hygienic than those of a tribal community. Some people though, want to go all the way and prefer to be tattooed using the traditional methods.
Traditional Tribal Tattoo Art
Tattooing in Borneo (one of islands of Indonesia/Malaysia) is an important form of body modification. The tattoos are believed to protect against pain and diseases. The Iban, Kayan en Kenyah tribes, all headhunters, share the same style of tattoos. The Kayan used carved wood blocks or carved skulls to transfer the designs onto the skin.
Polynesia is a group of over 1000 islands in the Pacific Ocean. The most famous Polynesian tattoo styles are the Maori, Marquesan, Tahitian, Samoan and Hawaiian styles.
Read more about Polynesian Tattoos
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They use a form of personal identification called Ta Moko. Tattoos are used to carve the family history into the skin.
Learn more about Ta Moko and Maori Tattoos
The Marquesa islands are a group of islands situated in French Polynesia. The Marquesan tattoo art greatly influenced today's tattoo artists. The hands are an important tattoo spot in the Marquesan tattoo tradition, as well as the ears, the shoulders and the lips.
Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos
Like the other tribal tattoos, tattoos in Hawaii have a hidden meaning and are believed to have magical power. They are applied during a ritual ceremony. Both men and women are tattooed with motifs like triangles, squares, crescents and animals like sharks and lizards.
More about Hawaiian Tattoos
The Celtic people used to live in tribes spread over Great Britain and parts of Western Europe and were heavily tattooed. Interlacing patterns, spirals and knot work are typical for Celtic tattoos.
More about Celtic Tattoos
Native American Tattoos
Tattoos played a big role in the culture of the American Indians. They were used for identification, to give praise and to give magical powers or protection. Typical Native American tattoo designs include animals (eagles, snakes, bears), feathers and mythical creatures.
Aztec Tribal Tattoos
The Aztecs were another group of Native Americans. They lived in central America from the 13th to the 16th century and used tattoos to mark a warrior's rank and differentiate between the various tribes. Typical Aztec tattoos include gods like Quetzalcoatl and Huitilopochtili, suns and eagles.
Learn more about Aztec Tattoos
Chinese Tribal Tattoos
The history of the Chinese tattoo is not very interesting, but there are several ethnic minorities in China with a strong tattoo tradition. The most important tribes are those of the Dai, Drung and Li.
More about the Chinese Tattoo
The Haidas are the indigenous people of the territory that lies on the west coast of North America (southeast Alaska). The people of the haida tribe decorate their objects with crests (totems) and use tattoos to represent the family crest and social status. The crests included all kinds of animals (killer whale, shark, wolf, eagle, owl) as well as the sun, the moon, clay,
Tribal Tattoo Designs
To a certain extent, tribal tattoos speak for themselves. It is a special feature of a tribal tattoo that even a relatively simple or unformed line or curve tends to look good, even just on its own.
In recent years, a style that we can call the New Tribal has emerged. Symbols that have nothing to do with the original tribal designs are combined with the typical lines, curves and interlocking formations of the traditional tribal tattoos. In the case of New Tribals, it is the decoration surrounding the central element that marks them as tribal. Here's an overview of tribal tattoo symbols or symbols that are often combined with tribal designs:
Tribal Dragon Tattoos
The dragon is a mythological creature that appears in many different cultures around the world and has as many different symbolic meanings.
In Asia, dragons are seen as a benevolent creature. The Japanese dragon denotes the male principle (yang): the sun, air, fertility, rain. It symbolizes the dominance of the heavenly over the earthly powers.
In the West the dragon is portrayed as an evil creature, breathing fire to show its mythical power.
Learn more about dragons and dragon tattoos
Tribal Cross Tattoos
The cross is a very old symbol and appears in many religions around the world. A cross is a good symbol to express one's spirituality or religion and it lends itself well to a tribal adaptation
Tribal Rose Tattoos
The rose and flowers in general are popular tattoo designs. Roses can mean a lot of different things, it's a symbol for love, respect, spiritual growth (just like the lotus flower), Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
More about flower tattoos
Tribal Phoenix Tattoos
The phoenix is a mythological bird that has a very long life and arises from his ashes to be reborn. The phoenix can be found often in Far Eastern tattoo art and is a symbol of rebirth and transformation.
Tribal Tiger Tattoos
The tiger is a very powerful symbol and appears often in Asian tattoo genres. It is a symbol for power, beauty and cruelty.
Tribal Bear Tattoos
The tribal bear tattoo (sometimes depicting a whole bear, but often just a paw print) is reminiscent of some Native American tattoos. It gives the impression of an animal totem or protective animal spirit.
Other symbols that are used often in tribal tattoos:
Over the past few years though, some tribal tattoo designs have evolved that are characteristically feminine in nature. They have the same recognizable tribal patterns, but they tend to be smaller and more self contained. A good example might be the tribal butterfly tattoo, a popular choice for an ankle or shoulder tattoo. A larger version of the tribal butterfly can also look good on the lower back. Tribal rose tattoos are also popular in many of the same locations.