The history of tribal tattooing
Most likely, the first tattoo was an accident. The scene is very easy to imagine, a group of primitive men gather around a bonfire, some of them accidentally wound themselves with a burned wooden stick covered in ash, and later when the wound heals discovers that it has been a dark colored mark under your skin that won't rub off. Ethnologists believe that the earliest tattoos most likely depicted "the flames" or the "sun" in honor of the solar gods.
There are three facts that raised the status of the tribal tattoo from the artistic plane to the realm of mysticism and the spiritual: the pain, that it was permanent and the vital energy that was spilled when doing it (the blood). This trio of mystical elements transformed the practice of tattooing from a mere artistic work to a way for people to establish a physical link with their beliefs, whether they were their gods, magical powers, etc. and even as a means of inducing states of
trance or mystical visions.
It is a widespread belief that the body and the soul have an identical shape, or that they maintain a strong connection, due to this many cultures believe that tattoos exist in two planes: the real world, under our skin, and the spiritual world, associated to our soul or spirit. For many Borneo tribes, tattoos not only served as a guide or "passport" to the spirit world after death, but also reserved a better status or occupation for the deceased once they reached their destination.
Most (if not all) primitive tribes have been found to use some form of body art, from scarifications (raised scars) to temporary body paintings. These traditional art forms prevailed throughout the world until the arrival of "civilization" as we know it today, at which time the tattoo suffered a significant decline in popularity.
Times may change, but the reasons remain the same.
In ancient times, tribal tattoos were very popular for the same reasons that are popular again today. Some of the most common reasons to justify its existence can be found below:
To identify clans, tribes and families.
Tribal tattoos were originally used to identify individuals belonging to certain tribes, clans, and families. This not only allowed them to clearly identify themselves, or recognize distant relatives, it was also believed that tattoos allowed them to find your tribe again in the "afterlife." Today, fraternities, gangs, members of the armed forces and other organizations have tattoo designs that make them recognizable by their peers.
In addition to tribal tattoos identifying the tribe, ancient men and women could also wear tattoos symbolic of marriage. In addition to serving the same function as current "wedding rings" (a token of your commitment to the other person), the "marital tattoo" could also help you find your partner in the "afterlife." This belief was very important when husbands and wives could die years apart. Today this form of tattoo is still prevalent, and we can find many couples who tattoo their partner's name, rings, initials and hearts, as proof of their love and fidelity.
Rites of adulthood.
In ancient times adolescents approaching adulthood often had to go through the tattoo experience before becoming socially accepted as adults. A woman who could not bear the pain of a tattoo would not be able to bear the pain of childbirth, so she was not prepared for marriage either. A man who could not bear it was also considered unprepared for battle or hunting, and his weakness often made him an "outcast" within the tribe, a second-rate person. Today, many teenagers wait patiently (or not) until their eighteenth birthday to celebrate their entry into adulthood by getting a tattoo.
Spiritual Guardian Animal
Many tribal tattoos were done as a sign of the power of certain "totem" animals over the lives of those they protect and bless. This was an especially popular practice among the Pacific natives and the Druids and Celtic peoples of the British Isles. That you were granted a guardian animal or "totem" was a double blessing, on the one hand you acquired the strengths and abilities of the animal, and on the other hand the tattoo served as a kind of "mystical link" between the spirit of the animal and the bearer of your brand (tattoo). Different animals provided different abilities and virtues to their recipient. Today, animal tattoos are still among the most popular choices. Back, shoulders, arms, legs, any part of the anatomy is perfect to decorate with graceful butterflies, terrifying dragons, and deadly scorpions, in the hope of acquiring something of the spirit of these creatures.
Probably the most widely documented and widespread purpose for tribal tattoos has been "magic" motivation, meaning tattoos that act like
"spells" or "spells".
These magical tattoos were made using herbs or special elements to make the pigments that were generally applied in small tattoos, made in hidden areas of the anatomy to activate magic. These tattoos used to be kept hidden because many times once they reached maturity, people did not want others to know about their "youthful follies". Who doesn't know someone with the name of a tattooed "ex"? Even if I have covered or removed it.
Rich spiritual traditions survive today. Tribal tattoos of all kinds are done "en masse", on people of all kinds, completely different from each other, from descendants of aboriginal tribes, to elite athletes or bankers. Also the interpretations and sub-styles within the tribal ones are incredibly wide, you can find "tribal style fairies", Hawaiian inspired tribal designs, African motifs, Celtic crosses (both pagan and Christian), and even facial tribal of the Maori. ("moko"). But it seems that the old superstitions still prevail. When you are faced with doubts or indecisions when it comes to getting a tattoo, the modern tattoo artist will tell you that ...
"When you have to get a tattoo, the God of tattoos will indicate that it is your moment."