Tribal Tattoos became popular in the early 1990s. They can be exceptionally visually striking as they are consist of thick black lines forming bold, interlocking, swirling patterns.
Tribal tattoos probably owe much of their popularity because they can be excellent ‘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 tattoos and link them together.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Modern/ Neo Tribal Tattoos
- 3 Meanings of Tribal Tattoos
- 4 The Basics of Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 5 Where Can You Wear a Tribal Tattoo?
- 6 Popular Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 7 Other Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 8 Celebrities with Tribal Tattoos
For thousands of years, tribes, clans, and individuals have used tattoos to define their identities and bind them together.
Our ancestors faced the dangers and challenges of their natural setting – weather predators, and diseases – guided by their tribe, traditions, and spiritual teachings. They found their identities through their family’s history of achievements, occupations and skills, and personal accomplishments.
When a person reached early adulthood, their rite of passage was often memorialized through tribal tattoo art. These body art designs were added to and embellished throughout the individual life. Each tattoo was unique to that individual. Significant life accomplishments, mastery of a set of vocational skills, or the achievement of a particular rank or status were commemorated through tribal tattoo art.
Tattoos were also used as a talisman to protect from malicious forces, magic, or misfortune. Shamans and healers believed tattoos placed over specific body areas protected their tribesmen from physical ailments and debilitating diseases.
The Natural world often was the source of tribal tattoo designs. Bold spirals from the evening cloud-banks, wave patterns from the ocean, and long flowing lines from twining flower tendrils make up the essential elements of tribal tattoo designs. They also used motifs, and images such as stylized mammals, fish, birds, and even insects with their tattoo designs.
Each cultural area of the world has its own style of representing tattoo elements in their body art.
Polynesian tattoos, for example, incorporate large, bold triangle patterns that create repeated lines. Hawaiian artwork leans toward large black areas with finer lines within the black fields. The Inuits favored elongated, curved triangles with open scrolls and wave patterns, and the long lines with tight turnbacks and ever-decreasing spirals appear in the Maori culture.
Modern/ Neo Tribal Tattoos
Each day, the ever-changing world of modern man becomes larger and more integrated. We do not have any traditional cultural histories passed on to us by our ancestors. It has become easy to be lost in the crowd without individuality or identity.
The resurgence of tattoo art, especially in tribal designs, has given modern man a name and an individual identity. Just as our ancestors did, we use body art to define our accomplishments, aspirations, and spiritual ideas. Like our ancestors, we pull from our cultural settings for our tattoo designs.
The modern Tribal body art style originated in America but heavily influenced by traditional tribal arts from the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia. Some people claim that the style was invented when Ed Hardy, a leading Tattoo artist in the US, lent a notebook to Los Angeles artist Leo Zulueta. The notebook contained tribal tattoo designs made by the Dyak people of Borneo. Impressed by the simple yet visually striking style of the Dyak designs, Zulueta began to base his subsequent work on tribal artwork.
Zulueta tattooed a lot of punk musicians involved in the music scene in LA, and this new simple yet visually striking tattoo style quickly entered popular culture.
Despite being initially influenced by the Dyak style from Borneo, modern Tribal tattoo designs also show influences from many other traditional tribal arts, such as Aboriginal, African, American Indian, Aztec, Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, Hawaiian, Hindu, Inuit, Japanese, Mayan, Maori, and Oriental.
Meanings of Tribal Tattoos
Tribal tattoos represent:
Adventure/Quests of the Soul
The Basics of Tribal Tattoo Designs
Tribal elements often fall into a few basic categories: triangle, circle, spiral, or line. These elements can be used alone for small tattoos around the wrist, ankle, or upper thigh, or they can be combined to create large tattoos for the shoulder, chest, or back. By mixing different shapes within your tattoo, you add interest and tension as the eye moves from one element area into the next.
Where Can You Wear a Tribal Tattoo?
Perhaps the main reason that tribal tattoo designs became so popular is their sheer flexibility. Because they are such excellent ‘space fillers,’ it is possible to cover any space. You can easily wrap an entire arm or leg in Tribal style, and this can be visually striking.
Typically rendered in black ink, the contrast of thick black swirls and lines stands out on white skin. It is also one of the few styles which can be very noticeable against darker or black skin.
Black ink used in this style of tattooing can also be ideal for covering or amending existing tattoos, which you no longer like or care about.
Most popular placements for tribal tattoos are:
- Lower back
- Full sleeve
Popular Tribal Tattoo Designs
Tribal Cross Tattoos
Tribal cross tattoos can have various meanings, which is subjective. The Christian cross has a religious connotation.
The Celtic cross probably is the most popular among other tribal cross tattoos. Celtic designs are famous for their intricate loops and knots. People often get them to display their faith and heritage. The loops in a Celtic cross tattoo illustrate the eternal and cyclical nature of life.
The tribal cross tattoos continue to be spiritual or symbolic in meaning.
Tribal Art Designs – Cross
Tribal Sun Tattoos
This may be the tattoo of all tattoos after all the sun is the source of all energy. Without the sun, we have no life on earth, perhaps that is the reason through history most cultures worshiped the sun as a god.
Generally speaking, tribal sun tattoos do have universal symbolic meaning. They symbolize new life, rebirth, strength, and power.
Tribal sun tattoos are popular with both men and women. You can add the sun in armbands, alone, in a Celtic knot, a Maori pattern, or an Aztec design.
Tribal Art Designs – Sun
Tribal Horse Tattoos
Because of humans’ relationship with the horses for thousands of years, tribal horse tattoos are a beautiful expression of that relationship. Horses symbolize bravery, strength, and appetite for freedom.
Tribal Art Designs – Horses
Tribal Wolf Tattoos
There are many beliefs surrounding the meaning or symbolism of this lovely creature.
Every culture recognizes the wolf as a creature of dual nature. In other words, the wolf is considered both destructive and nurturing.
The wolf is regarded as a teacher by Native Americans and symbolizes loyalty, guardianship, spirit, and pathfinder. European culture always depicts the wolf as a ferocious and fearsome animal. In Asia, some people believe that a wolf or wolves guard the gates of heaven.
Tribal Dragon Tattoos
Dragon is a mythical creature. The representation of dragons varies in different cultures. In western culture, dragons symbolize death and destruction, whereas, in the eastern culture, they bring good fortune. In general, tribal dragon tattoos represent power and authority.
Dragons are depicted differently in tribal art based on mythology and cultures. Western dragons have razor-sharp teeth, bat-like wings, and strong legs. Unlike western dragons, Chinese dragons do not have wings, and they are more serpent-like.
Tribal Art Designs – Dragons
Tribal Arm Tattoos
In recent times, tribal arm tattoos have become very popular among men and women, especially men. The qualities of these timeless classic tattoos have been given a modern new look to the traditional tribal art.
Tribal Sleeve Tattoos
Tribal sleeve tattoos are pieces of body art that cover part, or all, of the arm. Sleeves are great for people who want to have a lot of tribal art or those who wish to have an awesome looking tattoo!
Like most other sleeve tattoos, the tribal sleeve tattoos generally have a wide variety of elements and symbols. Many people like to have symbols of spiritualism and faith, primitive styles of writing;
Besides the tribal aspect, there are other additions that people like to add that enhance the tattoo. Examples of this are mythological beasts and gods, things from nature (trees, birds, etc.), and even animals.
Tribal Tattoos for Men
Tribal Tattoos for Women
With their bold dark ink and constant free-flowing designs and rich history, tribal tattoos are an excellent choice for women.
Other Tribal Tattoo Designs
Celtic Tribal Tattoos
Celebrities with Tribal Tattoos
Due to their general popularity and flexibility, many celebrities have Tribal Tattoos.
Actor Jamie Fox has a large and extensive tribal tattoo on his arms, shoulders, and chest. He also had a small tribal design tattooed onto the back of his head, which he got on his fortieth birthday.
Former boxer Mike Tyson has a distinctive tribal tattoo on his face, inspired by the facial tattoos of Maori warriors.
Wrestler turned actor Dwayne Johnson AKA ‘The Rock’ has a Polynesian tribal tattoo on his shoulder. 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 other designs.
Singer Robbie Williams has a large Maori inspired tribal tattoo design on his upper left arm and shoulder.
Famous 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. The barbed wire tattoo was inspired by the tribal art which was very popular at that time.