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Tribal Tattoo Designs & History: Polynesian, Tahitian, Maori, Celtic, Egyptian, Japanese, Hawaiian

What’s cooler than an exceptional piece of tribal tattoo art? Not much! No meaningless colors, no meaningless images, just purely symbolic, subconscious. tribal communicated to the world!

Now, you don’t have to belong to a traditional tribe for your tribal tattoo to mean something, in fact we all are tribe members of some kind; just think about the subculture (hip hop, grunge, rock, etc.). I doubt you’ll find a group of die-hard rock fans each with pretty flower tattoos or hardened convicts from the USA with pink fairies! Do you understand drift? So with that in mind, let’s go over some of the original tribal tattoo types and a brief history to help you form a foundation for your next tattoo design.

polynesian tribal tattoos (Tahitians):

These tattoos were fundamental to their culture as they did not have a written language as we know it. Social status, family and position were the main messages conveyed by their intricate designs and rituals around them.

The tools used were a comb with needles usually made of bone attached to a handle. The needles were placed in the ink (made from water, oil and candle-nut soot, eg charcoal), then against the chosen physical location and struck at the back, piercing the skin and injecting the ink. The noise made from this is where the name “tattoo” comes from, or “tatau” as the Polynesians (Tahitians) would say, or even “Tattow”, as Captain James Cook later nicknamed it.

Celtic tribal tattoos:

The Celts, once a dominant force in what we know as Europe, were slowly and violently pushed northwest by the Romans, Angles, and Saxons. Celtic culture is rich in history and legends, but again, as there was no classical written language, tattoos were required to convey social messages.

Celtic tattoos are often known for their intricate knots, interlocking patterns, spirals, and animals. Deeply spiritual meanings and meanings, the interwoven patterns and organic spirals indicate an endless flow to the world as they saw it. Most commonly used today as cultural and heritage markers (Scottish, Irish and some Welsh), Celtic bands. They present the majority and are very attractive designs with a meaning put into where celtic tattoo design is placed

Maori tribal tattoos:

“Ta Moko, the process”, “Moko, the product”.

There is an old story from New Zealand about how tattoos were made for the Maori, which begins with a relationship between a man (Mataora) and a princess of the underworld (Niwareka). Deeply saddened and remorseful by his actions, Mataora sets out to win back his lover and then embarks on an epic journey to the Uetonga underworld, brought back to the land of men, along with Mataora!

Primarily used to mark male status and rights of way, tools and techniques similar to those of the Polynesians (Tahitians) were used; in fact, it is widely believed that the early Polynesians first brought the art to New Zealand.

Other great tattoo civilizations:

  • egyptian tattoos – Just as they did, their techniques spread throughout the known world.
  • japanese tattoos – Deeply ritualized and formal, it certainly had more to do with honor than visual symbolism.
  • hawaiian tattoos – Culturally and geographically so close to Tahiti, the story is too similar to repeat here, but just know that the artworks differed over time.

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