The Secrets of Tribal Tattoo Art
Although today many choose to adorn their body with tattoos meaningful to them, the history of tattooing is somewhat different: Tribal tattoo art, which was the main kind of tattoos applied in ancient times, was meaningful to the entire tribe, and the choice of what tattoo each person would get was not his own but that of the tattoo artist.
Tribal tattoos are usually black or dark blue. The ink is made from burned wood or from vegetable carbon. At the beginning, tattoos symbolized fertility, life and other things that were important to the tribe. Such was the marriage tattoo. Since many primitive peoples believed that your spirit is a replica of your body, tattoos were made to insure spouses will find each other in the afterlife.
Another tattoo ritual is a girl’s rite of passage into adulthood. This is performed even today in tribes, where girls are considered worthy of a good, strong groom after they have withstood the pain of a facial tattoo. In other tribes, a girl who cannot withstand the pain is a girl that will not get married since it is believed she will not be able to withstand the pain involved in child labor. However, in some tribes, modern tribe girls are free to express their opinion and some choose not to go through this painful ritual. This choice can make the girl a subject of ridicule. Some tribes regard the tattoo ritual as signifying courage and a girl who cannot or chooses not to withstand the excruciating pain is considered a coward.
Unlike the electric tattoo machines that are used today in tattoo parlors around the world, tribal tattoos are made with chisels and knives. These tools for tattooing made the tattooing process far more painful and involved many more health risks. Maori tribal tattoos, for example, are called ta moko which means “to tap”: tapping on the skin with a chisel is the way used to create the Maori tribal tattoos. Another common way of making tribal tattoos is rubbing ink against the skin after making incisions in the shape of the wanted design.