Tribal Tattoos: Significance, Origins, and Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is a Tribal Tattoo?
  2. Historical Origins of Tribal Tattoos
  3. Significance of Tribal Tattoos
  4. Different Styles of Tribal Tattoos
  5. How to Choose a Tribal Tattoo Design
  6. How to Prepare for Getting a Tribal Tattoo
  7. Caring for Your Tribal Tattoo

From the shores of ancient Polynesia to the buzzing tattoo parlors of the modern world, the tribal tattoo has a story to tell. It's been a symbol of identity, a rite of passage, and a work of art. Today, we're taking you on a journey through the rich and diverse tribal tattoo history. So, let's get started, shall we?

What is a Tribal Tattoo?

A tribal tattoo is more than just ink on skin—it's a nod to the history and culture of indigenous people from across the globe. These tattoos often feature bold, black designs with intricate patterns and shapes. The appeal of tribal tattoos is universal, but the meaning behind each one is as unique as the person wearing it.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about tribal tattoos? Let's break it down:

  • Traditional Tribal Tattoos: These tattoos are deeply rooted in the history of indigenous tribes. Each tribe had its own unique designs and tattooing methods. For example, the Maori people of New Zealand use a technique called Ta Moko, which involves chiseling the skin instead of puncturing it.
  • Modern Tribal Tattoos: These are a mix of traditional designs and modern artistry. While they may not have the same cultural significance as traditional tribal tattoos, they are a popular choice for people who appreciate the aesthetic appeal of tribal tattoo designs.

Whether you're drawn to the sweeping curves of a Polynesian tribal tattoo or the geometric shapes of a Celtic tribal tattoo, understanding tribal tattoo history can enhance your appreciation of these timeless designs. So, as you embark on your tribal tattoo journey, remember—it's not just about the design, it's about the story behind it.

Historical Origins of Tribal Tattoos

Let's time travel a bit and delve into the origins of tribal tattoos. The history of tribal tattoos is as diverse as the designs themselves. It's a tale that stretches back thousands of years, touching every corner of the globe.

One of the earliest records of tribal tattoos comes from ancient Egypt. Archeologists discovered figurines dating back to 4000 BC with patterns resembling tribal tattoos. Intriguing, right? But that's just the tip of the iceberg in our journey through tribal tattoo history.

  • Polynesian Tribal Tattoos: When you think of tribal tattoos, Polynesia might be the first place that comes to mind. The tradition of tattooing in Polynesia is over two thousand years old. The word 'tattoo' actually comes from the Tahitian word 'tatu', meaning to mark something. Polynesian tattoos, known as Tatau, were seen as a rite of passage and a symbol of social status.
  • Maori Tribal Tattoos: The Maori people of New Zealand have a rich tattooing tradition. Their unique method of tattooing, known as Ta Moko, involves chiseling the skin. This creates a textured tattoo that is truly one-of-a-kind.
  • African Tribal Tattoos: Africa also has a deep-rooted history of tribal tattoos. African tattoos were often symbols of protection, fertility, and bravery. The designs were typically geometric shapes, with each shape having its own significance.

From the sands of Egypt to the islands of Polynesia, the tribal tattoo has left its mark on cultures around the world. It's not just a trend; it's a testament to human creativity and resilience. And getting a tribal tattoo is not just about getting inked—it's about becoming a part of this rich, global history.

Significance of Tribal Tattoos

So, we've unraveled the historical roots of tribal tattoos. But what does it mean to wear one today? Is it merely a fashion statement or does it carry a deeper meaning? Let's delve a bit into the significance of tribal tattoos.

First, it's important to understand that the value of a tribal tattoo goes beyond skin deep. It's not just about how cool or edgy it looks. More than aesthetic appeal, every tribal tattoo tells a story—a story that is deeply rooted in tribal tattoo history.

  • Symbolism: Tribal tattoos are rich in symbolism. Every line, curve, and dot in the design has a specific meaning. For instance, a spiral can symbolize growth and evolution, while a triangle can represent strength and unity. The beauty of tribal tattoos lies in their ability to communicate complex ideas through simple shapes.
  • Identity: Tribal tattoos were traditionally used to denote identity. They could indicate a person's tribe, social status, and even personal achievements. Today, getting a tribal tattoo can be a powerful way of expressing your identity or honoring your heritage.
  • Protection: In many cultures, tribal tattoos were believed to offer protection. They were seen as talismans that could ward off evil spirits or bring good luck. While not everyone might hold these beliefs today, a tribal tattoo can still be a symbol of strength and resilience.

Getting a tribal tattoo is not just about following a trend—it's about embracing a piece of tribal tattoo history. It's about wearing a piece of art that has been shaped by centuries of human experience and cultural evolution. So, when you look at your tribal tattoo, remember—it's more than just ink on skin; it's a symbol of the enduring spirit of humanity.

Different Styles of Tribal Tattoos

Now that we've peeled back some layers of the tribal tattoo history and significance, let's dive into the variety of styles in tribal tattoos. After all, not all tribal tattoos are the same. From simple geometric patterns to intricate, symbolic designs—there's a world of styles waiting for you to explore.

  • Polynesian Tribal Tattoos: The Polynesian islands are known for their vibrant cultures and rich histories of tattooing. Polynesian tribal tattoos are typically made up of black lines and geometric shapes. They often tell a story or represent a specific social status.
  • Maori Tribal Tattoos: Originating from the indigenous people of New Zealand, Maori tattoos, also known as "Ta Moko", are unique for their intricate spiral designs. These tattoos were more than just decorative—they served as a form of identification, showcasing a person’s ancestry, skills, and social status.
  • Celtic Tribal Tattoos: The Celts, an ancient European culture, are known for their unique art and symbolism. Celtic tribal tattoos often feature knots, crosses, and spirals. The endless knots are particularly popular as they symbolize the eternal cycle of life and death.
  • Native American Tribal Tattoos: Native American tribal tattoos often feature animals and nature elements, reflecting their deep connection with the earth. Each design holds a specific meaning or tells a story relevant to the tribe.

These are just a few examples of the different styles of tribal tattoos. Each style holds a unique piece of tribal tattoo history, carrying the stories, beliefs, and traditions of different cultures. So, when choosing a tribal tattoo, consider the style that resonates with you the most. After all, your tattoo should be a reflection of your journey, your beliefs, and your spirit.

How to Choose a Tribal Tattoo Design

Choosing the right tribal tattoo design is more than just picking a cool pattern. It's about finding a design that speaks to your identity and resonates with your personal story. So, where do you start?

  1. Understand the meaning: As we learned from our dive into tribal tattoo history, each design holds a specific meaning. Research the symbolism behind different designs. This will help ensure that your tattoo not only looks great but also holds a deeper significance.
  2. Think about placement: The placement of your tattoo can make a big difference. Some designs might look better on larger areas like the back or chest, while others can be perfect for smaller spaces like the wrist or ankle. Consider your daily lifestyle too. If you have a job where visible tattoos might be frowned upon, you might want to choose a location that can be easily covered.
  3. Find a skilled artist: Tribal tattoos require a deft hand and an eye for detail. Look for a tattoo artist who has experience with tribal designs. Check out their portfolio to see if you like their style.
  4. Customize the design: While it's important to respect the cultural origins of tribal designs, you can also add a personal touch. Collaborate with your tattoo artist to create a design that combines traditional tribal patterns with your own unique elements.

Remember, a tattoo is a lifelong commitment—so take your time. Explore different styles, learn the tribal tattoo history, and find a design that truly represents you. And of course, enjoy the journey. There's something truly special about finding a design that you connect with on a deeper level.

How to Prepare for Getting a Tribal Tattoo

So, you've chosen your design, picked the perfect spot, and found a fantastic artist. What's next? It's time to get ready for the big day. Here are some steps you can take to prepare for getting your tribal tattoo:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Hydration is key when it comes to tattooing. Not only does it help your skin stay healthy, but it can also make the tattooing process smoother.
  2. Eat Well: Make sure you have a good meal before your appointment. Tattooing can take a while, and you don't want to feel dizzy or faint halfway through. Plus, a well-nourished body can better handle the stress of tattooing.
  3. Get a Good Night's Rest: Try to get a good sleep the night before your appointment. A well-rested body can better manage any discomfort associated with getting a tattoo.
  4. Wear Comfortable Clothes: You'll be sitting or lying down for a while during the process. Plus, depending on where you're getting your tattoo, you might need to take off certain pieces of clothing. So, wear something you're comfortable in.
  5. Prepare Mentally: Getting a tattoo can be an intense experience. It's normal to feel a mix of excitement and nervousness. Take some time to mentally prepare yourself. Remember why you're getting this tattoo—the significance behind your chosen design and its link to tribal tattoo history.

Preparation is key. With these steps, you'll be ready to take on the tattoo chair with confidence. Remember—this is a momentous occasion. Take a deep breath, trust in your artist, and look forward to the beautiful piece of art you're about to receive.

Caring for Your Tribal Tattoo

Getting a tribal tattoo is only half the journey; the other half is taking proper care of it. After all, a well-cared-for tattoo is a beautiful tattoo. But how exactly do you care for your new tribal tattoo? Here's a straightforward guide:

  1. Listen to Your Tattoo Artist: Your tattoo artist knows best. They'll give you care instructions—follow them closely. They've been in the business for a while and understand what works best for healing tattoos.
  2. Keep it Clean: Tattooed skin is essentially an open wound. Keeping it clean is critical to prevent infection. Gently wash your tattoo a few times a day with mild soap and warm water.
  3. Moisturize: Dry skin can lead to a faded, dull tattoo. Use a mild, unscented moisturizer to keep your tattoo vibrant and your skin healthy.
  4. Avoid Sun Exposure: The sun's rays can be harsh on a new tattoo, causing it to fade faster. Keep it covered or apply a high SPF sunscreen when you go outside.
  5. Patience is Key: Healing takes time, usually around 2-3 weeks. Avoid picking at scabs or scratching the tattoo—this can lead to scarring or loss of ink.

Remember, your tribal tattoo is more than just a cool design. It's a piece of tribal tattoo history inked onto your skin. By taking proper care of your tattoo, you're preserving that history, ensuring it looks great for many years to come. So, show your tattoo some love, and it'll love you back!

If you're fascinated by the world of tribal tattoos and want to explore more about traditional art forms, we recommend checking out the workshop 'Creative Ways to Use Traditional Hand Embroidery Techniques' by Irem Yazici. Although it focuses on embroidery, you'll find valuable insights on how to incorporate tribal aesthetics and traditional techniques into your artwork, expanding your creative horizons.