Tribal tattoos are the most ancient of any tattoo styles. Yet until now, it is still one of the most popular designs. You would probably see many tattoo enthusiasts who at least have one tribal tattoo. But why is it so popular?
You probably have seen Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson right? He is a famous actor and a former wrestler. Or perhaps Jason Momoa, better known as Khal Drogo from “Game of Thrones.” Chances are, you have seen their tattoos. Those are tribal tattoos.
Getting a tribal tattoo, or any design for this matter, actually means more than just a body decor. Most people tend to get inked to tell their stories. And of course, you can tell your own story and show your strengths and hope through a good tribal tattoo.
History of Tribal Tattoos
- 1 History of Tribal Tattoos
- 2 Tribal Tattoo Characteristics
- 3 The Six Common Tribal Tattoo Designs and Styles
- 4 More Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 5 Animal Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 6 A Link to Nature
- 7 Abstract and 3D Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 8 Traditional Tattooing Method
- 9 Where to Place Your Tribal Tattoo
- 10 The Process
- 11 How Long Will it Take To Finish A Tribal Tattoo?
- 12 The Cost
- 13 Aftercare
- 14 Summary
Back in the old days, tribes around the world often use tattoos as a sign of their status. It is also a sign of beauty for other tribes. For some, these are mainly for connecting to their spiritual world. More often, tattoos are markings are badges of honor or ritual passages for men and women. These can symbolize their adulthood. Oftentimes, the chief or the best warrior gets the most tattoos in their body.
Like today, most of the tribal tattoos before were meant to tell a story. It could tell a man’s journey to being a warrior or stories about deities they believe in. This is the reason why the designs can vary from objects to animals and even people.
Most of the tribal tattoo designs nowadays are derived from Polynesian, Aztec, Samoan and Maori influences. Some of the pre-colonial tribes from these areas still exist today. In fact, most of their traditions are still being carried out today. Even old forms of tattooing such as hand tap tattooing still exists. They are done by the descendants of these tribes.
Tribal Tattoo Characteristics
The designs of tribal tattoos often vary from tribe to tribe. For example, Aztecs are more known for their black and grey designs while Micronesians often use bold blue shades. However, more popular are black heavy pigments that many tribes use. It is also the most common design for modern tribal styles.
Tribal designs are most noted for their use of geometric patterns, swirls, bold loops and hooks. As mentioned, the designs can depict objects, animals, deities, and people. Since warriors in the past also use tattoos as camouflage when hunting, there are also styles that resemble twigs and stones. Nonetheless, designs can vary from one tribe to another. You might be surprised by how different modern designs are to the traditional ones. The latter are more varied since it helps create a distinct feature for an individual. It also helps associate them with their tribe.
The Six Common Tribal Tattoo Designs and Styles
Tribal tattoos are not just for show. If you have decided to have a tribal design inked on you, you should be in the know. You have to proud of your tattoo and what it symbolizes since it also symbolizes you. If you haven’t yet decided on a design, here are the six most common styles and what they mean:
- Samoan – The Samoan tribal tattoos are among the most popular styles for both men and women. These have various designs but usually involve intricate patterns and geometric designs. These are also done in bold, heavy black ink. The pe’a (tattoos for men) tend to be larger and more intricate. The malu (tattoos for women) are usually more subtle. Popular Samoan tribal tattoos are Marquesan cross, ocean swirls, and sun rays. These designs generally mean a link to nature.
- Celtic knots and cross – Celtic tribal tattoos are also very common. You would likely have seen a Celtic cross tattoo somewhere. It means unwavering loyalty and a great symbol for love and friendship. Most of these designs are often linked to Celtic cultures and religions.
- Egyptian – Egyptian tattoos usually consist of hieroglyphs. This is the language of ancient Egypt in the form of drawn images. Among the most common and said to be powerful hieroglyph is the Eye of Horus, after the Egyptian god. This symbol is associated with protection, especially against evil. More common designs are the Ankh and the Scarab.
- Mayan and Aztec – Mayan and Aztec designs often revolve around their deities, demons and spirits and animals. These are not just popular tattoo designs for the tribes, these are also carved into their caves and sacred places. The most common design you’ll see are those of their deities like Tezcatlipoca that is believed to offer protection. The Mayan calendar is also a popular imagery, especially when it became popular back in 2012 when it allegedly “predicted” the end of the world.
- Maori – Maori designs are easy to spot. This is because the tattoos are often on the head. Their tattoos mark their social status and believed to be sacred. Designs are unique and highly intricate. Having one is a way of expressing your pride and your integrity as well as your origin.
- Modern tribal tattoo designs – Modern tribal designs are more for aesthetics than giving stories. The designs are usually filled with thick lines and swirls that seem random and yet looks cool and often highlight the muscles. They also have geometric lines and shapes that create patterns. Nowadays, you can add color to your design. Although a lot of these designs are indeed purely for decoration, tribal designs of animals and certain objects do have meanings.
More Tribal Tattoo Designs
Apart from these six most common tribal tattoo styles, there are other more specific designs that you can get. These are from different cultures around the globe. Each one has its own story or meaning behind the imagery. The designs are pretty much popular in the tattoo community and you might have seen these before.
- Aztec warrior – This designs depicts a warrior god heavily armed and ready for battle with traditional Aztec battle gear. This symbolizes power, strength and courage.
- Tiki – This is a semi-god known in Polynesian culture. A tiki often have two distinct face halves and organs as facial features. This design mainly signifies protection.
- Haida Bear – Haida tribes are known as Indian tribes in Northwest coast of America. A Haida bear design is said to bring the bear’s unique traits to its bearer. This design also signifies strength, vitality and family ties.
- Polynesian Elephant – Elephant tattoos are known for symbolizing strength, intelligence and simplicity and humanity. The same goes with Polynesian elephant tattoos which also represent a connection to nature.
- Mayan Totem Eagle – This is one of the most popular symbols of Mayan culture. It shows an eagle’s profile with its wings spread. Getting this as a tattoo is great for representing foresight, ferocity and power.
- Native Indian Circle Symbols – These are four simple circles that represent each of the four elements. These also represent the cycle of life and death.
Animal Tribal Tattoo Designs
Animals are common for tribal designs in the past. But they are still as popular as ever even today. You can get a tattoo of any animal you want, even mythical ones. The best thing with choosing these types of tribal tattoo designs is that they represent a deeper meaning.
Butterflies are one of the more popular subjects in tattoos. Tribal butterfly tattoos are more subtle with soft swirls and circles. Of course, it is usually inked with heavy black ink but you can choose to put more color to your design. Nonetheless, this design is often associated with transformation. The same meaning is often given to scorpions. However, they also signify chaos and strength. The scorpion is more common with Borneo tribe designs.
If you intend to get a tribal deer tattoo, it often represents grace and gentleness as well as survival. Lizards are more commonly associated with conservation and self-protection. While spiders are pretty much known as creepy crawlies, they actually represent creativity. Sometimes, spider tattoos are also known to depict a weaver of the fabric of life.
But when we say tribal tattoo, one of the things that easily come to mind are dragons. Winged dragons or Chinese-style ones, these are probably the most popular tribal tattoo design. And it does not simply look cool. It’s also a representation of wisdom, strength, power, longevity, prosperity and good luck.
A Link to Nature
Since most tribal inks have more connection to nature, you would also likely see designs of nature. Polynesian designs such as Samoan and Hawaiian tribes often depict the sea. Raging waves drawn in curls, palm trees on an island and sun with lines of rays are common.
The sun and moon are also good subjects for a tribal tattoo. Generally, the sun represents life, power, force and rebirth. The moon, on the other hand, is closely related to fertility, femininity and womanhood.
Abstract and 3D Tribal Tattoo Designs
Of course, it is very much okay to get a tattoo just because it looks cool. If it helps you gain your confidence, why not? As mentioned, tribal tattoos are more for enhancing physical features nowadays. That makes it the perfect style if you just want something that looks cool.
Abstract and 3D tribal tattoos are the best choices. You can personalize it or have your tattoo artist create a design depending on what you like. 3D designs are getting more popular these days. With highlighting and shading techniques, your tattoo artist could bring a tattoo to life. It would look like a design is carved on you or you are part of the design itself.
Abstract tattoo styles are the hardest to do out of all the styles. It takes a lot of imagination to come up with a design. Thinking about the shape and the detail could be grueling, much more to actually do it. That is why you have to find a tattoo artist that is comfortable with doing tribal designs. Each artist have their own style. Some would be better at making and tattooing tribal design than others.
Traditional Tattooing Method
One thing that is connected with most tribal tattoos are the traditional tattooing method. While you might be getting your tattoos from a tattoo parlor with a pro artist, the traditional way is way different. Instead of using tattoo guns, traditional tattoo artists often use sticks, tubes and rakes to puncture the skin. The ink are placed on the pointed end and as it punctures the skin, the ink seeps in. Suffice to say, traditional tattooing are way painful.
Of course, these methods are still being done. Usually, descendants of tribes still practice these. You can even try to have one from tribes in the Philippines, Hawaii, Samoa, and Brunei that use the hand tapping method.
Hand tapping is done by using a sharpened rake that is attached to a long horizontal stick. The artist or a helper has to stretch out the skin where the tattoo is being placed. Then, they would dip the rake to the ink and repeatedly strike the handle to form the design.
Bamboos are also used especially in Japan. It is one of the most difficult methods and is hard to master. However, it may be one of the most fascinating methods of making tribal tattoos.
A handle would be crafted out of a bamboo stick until it is smoothed and rounded out at one end. This is basically done for accuracy. However, the tattooing is done by a dozen of small needles attached to the pointed end. These are then dipped in ink and then used to puncture the skin. Somehow, it would remind you of an actual tattoo gun.
Traditional tattooing may have been lost some time ago but it is now slowly making a comeback. Although it can be painful and grueling, it’s satisfying to have a tribal tattoo made the traditional way.
Where to Place Your Tribal Tattoo
Unless you are getting a Maori tribal tattoo, you’re probably thinking where you should put yours. One thing that can really help you decide is the design you have chosen.
For example, you want to get a modern tribal design inked on your skin to help enhance a certain body part. The best thing to do is to have it placed near or on the part you want to improve. You can probably have a half or full sleeve if you want to show off your muscles in a good way. You can also choose to have it on your thighs or your chest. Some even go for a full back or half sleeve to the chest.
Speaking of design, you’d need a wider space if you are working on a large design. This is best on the chest, thighs and the back. This allows the tattoo artist to play around the design.
However, you also have to think about your experience with tattoos. If it is your first time to get one, you might want to skip with the tribal designs. Oftentimes, these designs are more intricate and with heavy shading. The more complex a design it, the more painful it could be. The artist have to go through certain sections again and again to achieve the perfect shadowing. It can be irritating and painful, especially when it’s done on the chest, back and inner biceps and elbow.
If you think you are ready for the pain, irritation and discomfort that will happen, then you can choose areas that won’t hurt as much. The forearms and the sleeves would be good places to start.
Understanding the entire process of tattooing is important for first timers. They need to understand what happens before and after they get the tattoo. It could be a spur-of-the-moment decision but it SHOULD NOT be. There is a whole process in getting a tattoo that requires your full commitment, especially with the design.
Once again, we are reminding you that getting a tattoo is a lifetime commitment, especially something as big as a tribal tattoo. There is no going back once you have it inked on your skin. You will have it until you grow old and know that there are some things you may not be able to do or would have difficulty doing.
So, with that reminder, here are the steps to the whole tattooing procedure:
- Choosing the design – We said it before, but before you can get a tattoo, you need a design. You should not get one when you are not sure or unsatisfied with the design. If you want a meaningful tribal tattoo, you might need to research. You can ask your grandmas and grandpas for the right design based on what you want it to represent if you are a descendant of a tribe. If you are mainly getting one that looks cool, talk to your tattoo artist.
- Find your tattoo artist – Most of the time, choosing your artist comes in second. That is because if you have a specific design in mind, you will need someone who can deliver satisfying results. You will have to bring a picture of the design you have in mind. However, there are times that you have to find an artist before you can decide on the design. There are several artists famous in the industry for delivering great results, but you have to trust them with the design. If that is your thing, you can definitely go for it.
- Think of the placement – Again, think of the design and where you think it best suits. One more thing to ask yourself: will the area stretch? If you either gain or lose weight, certain areas could be thoroughly affected. Know that this would also affect the tattoo later on.
- Check the shop – One thing you should make sure before anyone touches your skin is the shop is clean. The surrounding should be clean. The needles should be new. There should be a sterilization equipment available on the place. Do not be afraid to ask questions about their sanitation rules.
- Getting the tattoo – Now that you have everything checked, you can get the tattoo. You might be scheduled the same day you inquired. Perhaps you would be scheduled for another day. It will depend on your situation and how busy they are. Nonetheless, you are ready to go.
How Long Will it Take To Finish A Tribal Tattoo?
So, how long does it take to finish a tattoo?
The answer depends on the style. Simple styles that does not require any shading only lasts one session. It could take an hour to a few hours. However, more complicated designs such as tribal tattoos likely require multiple sessions.
Usually, the artist has to draw the outline of the design. Some artists tend to do the shading as they go along and then re-shade and highlight if needed. Others just do the outlines before doing the shading, highlighting and adding colors. Each session could last hours. Not only are designs complicated, you would probably need all the break you will need.
Big and complicated designs could be painful. If you are not comfortable or you can’t bear the pain any longer, you can always tell your artist. They would be more than happy to give you a few minutes of break.
Seeing as you might need multiple appointments with the shop and the artist, you have to be ready with the payment. Average tattoos range from $50 to $100 depending on the size and design. Tribal tattoos could reach up to $1000. That being said, you have to save up money if you want to get a cool design.
In the event you are going for traditional method of tattooing, the price could be different. It is much better to ask the artist who will be doing your tattoo. Still, it is better to have at least a thousand bucks on hand.
Tattoo shops often have free quotes. You can use this to your advantage and request one. You will have an idea how much you would probably spend by doing that. As much as possible, DO NOT get a tattoo if you do not have the money. Some people might offer you cheaper services but be wary and check out whether they are professionals and have clean needles and surroundings.
Now that you have your tribal tattoo, you have to take good care of it. Why? It takes at least 2 to 3 weeks to a maximum of 6 months before the wounds of your tattoo heals. If within those weeks you are unable to care for it, you risk getting infections. It does not only make your tattoo look far from what you want and expect, you are also risking your health.
With that, here are things you should do and avoid after having a tattoo:
- Leave the bandage for at least 2 to 4 hours in a clean surrounding. You can leave it on overnight if it feels comfortable and secure. The ink could still stain your bedding after the first night of taking off the bandage.
- Have clean bedding throughout the healing process.
- Clean the tattoo with warm water and alcohol and scent-free soap. Do not using anything with exfoliation scrubs and the likes. Wash the area with gentle circular motions. Dry it gently with a paper towel or air dry it.
- Do not use washcloths, bath towels, loofahs and bath sponges on your tattoo. Only use your hands when washing it. Also, make sure your hands are clean.
- You can use fragrant-free lotions such as Aquaphor when the tattoo is dry. This helps prevent flaking.
- If your tattoo is flaking, do not pick on the flakes. This can cause scarring.
- It is likely that your tattoo will “bleed” or “weep” on the first few days. If you see ink on your skin or a paper towel, don’t panic. Instead, gently dab with a new dry paper towel. Do not rub it. The ink is just an excess ink that’s being sloughed from the skin.
- Wear loose and clean clothes. Bra straps, tight waistbands and gym clothes could cause healing problems.
- Do not wear anything that could cause itch. And do not ever scratch new tattoos.
- Do not soak in the sun or water until your tattoo is completely healed. Therefore, no swimming in the beach, lakes, rivers or pools.
Tattoos are actually a huge part of civilization. It has been a part of many pre-colonial tribes around the world. After being considered a long tradition, some areas have considered tattoos as taboo, especially those that acquired new religion. It may have carried some of the negativity until now, but people are more open to this as a form of art.
There are various tribal ink styles that have references from each corner of the world. Most modern tribal tattoos often get its influences from Polynesian, Celtic and Asian roots. They have deeper meanings; stories meant to be told. But there is no need to have your tattoo say something about you. For as long as you are committed to your design, you can always wear it proudly.