Tribal Tattoos – Designs, Ideas & Meaning

Tribal Tattoos

Cool Tribal Tattoos

Tribal Tattoos are a style which became popular in the early 1990?s. Modern Tribal Tattoos can be extremely visually striking as they are most often comprised of thick black lines forming bold, interlocking, swirling patterns. Tribal tattoos probably owe much of their popularity to the fact that they can be extremely good ‘space fillers’ and that It is possible for a talented artist to create a striking tribal design on pretty much any part of the body! They can also be a very effective way to ‘frame’ other tattoo designs and link them together.

Many people who want a tattoo, but are unsure exactly what kind of design they want, will often choose a Tribal tattoo design. Tribal Tattoos have declined somewhat in popularity since the 90?s, but still remain fashionable today.

Types of Tribal Tattoos include:

Tribal tattoos for men

Tribal tattoos for women

Tribal cross tattoos

Tribal sun tattoos

Celtic tribal tattoos

Tribal wolf tattoos

Hawaiian tribal tattoos

Maori tribal tattoos

Polynesian tribal tattoos

Tribal dragon tattoos

History of Tribal Tattoos

The modern Tribal body art style originated in America, but was heavily influenced by traditional styles from the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia – hence the name Tribal. Some people claim that the style was invented when Ed Hardy, a leading Tattoo artist in the US, lent a notebook – containing tribal tattoo designs made by the Dyak people of Borneo – to Los Angeles artist Leo Zulueta. Impressed by the simple yet visually striking style of the Dyak designs, Zulueta began to heavily base his subsequent work upon tribal tattoos. Zulueta tattooed a lot of punk musicians involved in the music scene in LA and this new simple, yet visually striking, style quickly entered popular culture.

Despite being initially influenced by the Dyak style from Borneo, modern Tribal tattoos also show influences from many other traditional styles, such as: Aboriginal, African, American Indian, Aztec, Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, Hawaiian, Hindu, Inuit, Japanese, Mayan, Maori, and Oriental.

Popularity for Tribal tattoos probably peaked around 1996 when George Clooney’s character displays an entire arm covered with a striking Tribal Tattoo design in the Quentin Tarantino film – From Dusk Till Dawn. Except for tantalising glimpses at the neck and wrist, the tattoo remains hidden for most of the film. At the very end of the film George Clooney’s character nonchalantly removes his jacket to reveal that his entire left arm is covered in a striking black ‘flame’ tribal tattoo. The ‘tattoo’ was actually drawn on with theatrical makeup and was created by a tattoo artist named Gill ‘The Drill’ Montie.

Quentin Tarantino is extremely good at making things ‘cool’. From Dusk Till Dawn certainly did this with Tribal Tattoos and sent a lot of impressionable young people running straight to the nearest tattoo artist for a similar design. I should know, because I was one of those impressionable young people! Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Gill ‘The Drill’ Montie, most of my right arm is now covered in a Tribal design!

Celebrities with tribal tattoos

Due to their general popularity and flexibility, many celebrities have Tribal Tattoos. Male celebrities with tribal tattoos include:

Tribal Tattoos

Leg Tribal Tattoos

Actor Jamie Fox. Has a large and extensive tribal tattoo design on his arms, shoulders and chest. He has also had a small tribal design tattooed onto the back of his head for his fortieth birthday.

Former boxer Mike Tyson has a very distinctive tribal tattoo design on his face which was probably inspired by the facial tattoos of Maori warriors.

Wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson AKA ‘The Rock’ has a Polynesian derived tribal tattoo covering his shoulder. Apparently Dwayne made a special trip to Hawaii so that a prestigious Samoan tattoo artist could create the design.

Johnny Depp has many tattoos and some of these have a tribal style look to them – though they are also mixed with, and framing, other styles.

Robbie Williams has a large Maori inspired tribal tattoo design on his upper left arm and shoulder.

Female celebrities with tribal tattoos include:

Tennis player Anna Kournikova and singer Cheryl Cole, both have tribal tattoo designs on their lower backs.

Actress Pamela Anderson has a tattoo around her upper arm which she had made for her role in the film Barb Wire. Although the design is supposed to resemble barb wire circling her arm, it is clearly inspired by the tribal tattoo style very much in fashion at the time.

Where on the body can you wear a tribal tattoo?

Perhaps the main reason that tribal tattoo designs became so popular back in the 90?s is their sheer flexibility. Because they are such good ‘space fillers’ it is possible to visit a tattoo artist and have him draw up a design to cover any amount of space desired. You can easily have an entire arm or leg covered in Tribal style and this can be very visually striking. Normally rendered in black ink, the contrast of thick black swirls and lines on white skin really stands out. It is also one of the few styles which can be very noticeable against darker or black skin.

You can use tribal style to frame and connect existing tattoos. Framing another design with plain black tribal swirls gives really good contrast which can make the other design really stand out and look so much more stunning.

Black tribal tattoos can also be ideal to cover or amend existing tattoos which you no longer like or care for. A talented tattoo artist should be able to easily compose a tribal style design to conceal even relatively large tattoos. Unwanted text or writing – such as the name of a former partner – can easily be covered with bold tribal style swirls.

Good places to wear a tribal tattoo would be:

Tribal shoulder tattoos.

Tribal arm tattoos.

Tribal back tattoos.

Lower back tribal tattoos.

Tribal sleeve tattoos.

Tribal wrist tattoos.

Full sleeve tribal tattoos.

Tribal leg tattoos.

At one time it was very popular for women to have symmetrical tribal tattoos placed on their lower back. Unfortunately, silly people in the media started calling these by the derogative name of ‘tramp stamp’, which led to an instant decline in popularity for lower back tribal tattoos.

Images by:

Fabi Dorighello and Tattoo_Lover

augrust and Tattoo_Lover