The Meaning of Tribal Tattoos


Tattoos have been around for centuries. Anywhere from Polynesian islands, maritime sailors, traditional civilizations, and ancient cultures, a tattoo is always symbolic. In the Samoan culture, tattoos are called “tataus” and are excruciatingly performed as a rite or initiation for a boy’s coming of age. They have a saying, “If a girl is born, she must bear the pain of birth. If a boy is born, he must bear the pain of tatau.” It was a symbol of pride and manhood for the men of their tribe. Any man who died without a tatau would be thrown into the forest without a proper burial.


Tribal tattoos usually reference the Polynesian culture’s design and aesthetics. In the 1980s, there was a sudden explosion of Tribal influences due to the release of Ed Hardy and Leo Zulueta’s tribal artwork. This revival is important in some aspects. Honestly, most people have tribal tattoos because it looks cool. However, one thing is certain. It connects us to a mysterious and ancient past, and that feeling gives us a greater connection to the deep history of the world.

Tattoos were once an integral part of human interaction. Today, many tattoos are self-motivated expressions of personal freedom, while many choose ones that will be unique to them and hold special meanings. During ancient times, tribal tattoos were a mark for tribe members to be distinguished easily by other tribes. Sometimes these tattoos symbolized rank and power.

Unlike the pop culture tattoos of today (Yes I’m talking about the M&M and Mickey Mouse tattoos), tattoos had great inner meaning to the wearer. In old times in Alaska, tribesmen wore tattoos indicating the number of enemies he had vanquished. Some tribes focused on the powerful symbolism of directly marking the “source” of a man’s supernatural powers. They would tattoo the area in which the supernatural powers lie.

Tribal Tattoos are what they symbolize. They may look awesome but without the inner meaning, tribal tattoos will carry no further significance. However, in society today we do not have “rites” or “initiations,” but we do have the freedom to express ourselves. Therefore, a true “tribal” tattoo is one that has deep meaning and has the ability to connect us to the world and “tribe” around us.

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One Comment on “The Meaning of Tribal Tattoos”

Donald Johnson says:

I love tribal tattoos, they are very beautiful to have in every way and every where on your body if you are wise to have them as a tattoo.

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