The tattoo style known as “tribal” has a long tradition that spans back over thousands of years. It began as a style that was unique to a particular culture or tribe to set them apart from other local groups. It was also used as a way to express one’s religion of beliefs. Tribal tattoos were also used for protection and camouflage.
The meanings of these tattoos have varied over the years as the art style has evolved. Many of these designs are taken from Aztec, Polynesian, Indian, Egyptian and Mayan cultures. In these respects they were used to signify social status or identification. In a way, some people still use the “social status” tribal tattoo meaning in the modern world, though that meaning would be as clear to people who aren’t familiar with its history.
The word tattoo is actually derived from the Polynesian word “tatau”. Polynesians regarded tattoos as a form of language. All of the odd-shaped lines and symbols that are in tribal tattoos add a bit more meaning to the overall design. This is why many tribal tattoos can look similar while having very different meanings. If you do plan on getting a tribal tattoo, it’s a good idea to recognize what all of the symbols mean so you can get the most personalized design possible.
The Maori tribe in New Zealand is known for facial tribal tattoos. These were used to represent inner strength and were regarded as a way of being identified in the spirit world after passing on. You really won’t see too many of these types of tribal tattoos outside of those tribes (or the tribes that branches out from them), those who do get them have them so they are still recognized after they pass away.
The Indian tribe Haida incorporated animals into their tribal tattoos to obtain the strength of the animal depicted. In this regard the tattoos were considered masculine and forceful. What’s great about these tribal tattoos is that you can get some of the classic tribal symbols along with the animals, giving your tattoo that much more meaning. It makes for a more well-rounded tat since you can combine meanings that you might otherwise not be able to do with other tattoo designs.
Tribal styles of tattoos often included short lines, circles, patterns or chevrons and large sections of black bands. Depending on the tribe one or all of these design elements may be utilized. Some of the symbols and lines used will have their own meanings, while others will only have meaning when combined with other elements. In some cases the lines are simply there for decoration and you should add in other designs to give the whole thing more meaning.
Placement on the body was also very important as it could be symbolic of the wearer’s status within the tribe or culture. These days people get their tribal tattoos where they think they will look best, which means that the placement doesn’t usually add much more meaning to the design. That doesn’t mean that modern tribal tattoos lack meaning; rather, it just means that outside observers won’t be able to distinguish the meaning simply by looking at where the tattoo is located.
The defining characteristic of modern reproductions of these tattoos is the thick, bold black lines that comprise the image. You might think that this has nothing to do with the tribal tattoo’s meaning, but it certainly does. You can very easily make a certain part of a tribal tattoo stand out more by making it thicker, which will make the meaning stand out more if there is one. This is something you have to think about before getting your tribal tattoo since you can make certain meanings come through more just by altering the design a bit.
Modern tribal tattoo designs are quite different looking than those worn back in the day, but many of the designs share meanings with classic tribal tats. While most people these days don’t have any affiliation with the tribes that originally wore these tattoos, they can use some of those same meanings. For example, you could get a tribal tattoo with specific symbols and lines to show that you are a modern “warrior” like those who used to wear the same tattoo. Of course, you could also just get a tribal-looking tattoo and then add in more modern elements to get the exact meaning that you want.
The sky is the limit with the subject matter and design you choose and can range from simple to complex. The new age tribal sleeve is one of the most popular tattoo designs in the world right now because it has a striking look without being overly complicated. While most modern tribal tattoos don’t have any cultural significance, they can certainly mean as much to people as they did to the tribes that originally wore them.
What’s interesting about the tribal tattoo is that it is one of the most distinctive tattooing styles regardless of how you get them done. The vast majority of tribal tattoos use just black ink, and the line work is often jagged, or barbed. Of course, you will find that most people use a unique tribal tattoo meaning even if their tat looks exactly like many others you have seen. These are just some of the reasons why the tribal tattoo continues to be one of the most popular tattoo designs all around the world.
Even though we’ve gone over a bunch of different tribal tattoo meanings here, it’s actually quite common for people to get their tribal tats for the look alone. The fact is that they are still seen as some of the coolest tattoo designs around, which makes them attractive to people of all ages. Plus, tattoo artists continue to come up with new ways to make tribal tattoos, so every new generation is going to have more options available to them.
While the modern tribal tattoo is seen as more of a counter-cultural style these days, plenty of people still do get these tats to pay homage to their heritage. The fact is that the descendants of those who originally wore tribal tattoos are spread out all over the world, so some of those people want to have a connection to where they came from. It’s true that this is a small percentage of the tribal tattoo community, but it also means that you can’t assume that someone got their tribal tattoo only because they think it looks great on their body.
While a lot of naysayers believe that newer tribal tattoos have no meaning regardless of who the owner is or where they came from, that is actually not the case. The truth is that you are allowed to use any tattoo design that you want on your body, and you can attach any meanings that you want to those tattoos. It is a good idea to study up on all of the symbols and lines you’re thinking about getting, but even if you don’t you can always give those design elements your own meanings.
As you can see, tribal tattoos are a lot more complex than they look. Those who are uninformed probably just see odd looking lines and weird symbols, but there are a ton of great tribal tattoo meanings out there and people very rarely regret getting these tattoos. That does not mean that tribal tats are for everyone, but they are some of the most versatile tattoo designs around.
If you’re thinking about getting a tribal tattoo, it’s a good idea to look at a bunch of design options and meanings before you make your decision. You’ll also want to think hard about where you want to get the tattoo since that can add in even more meaning to the overall design. We highly recommend finding some tribal tattoos that you like and then making one that is unique to you.
Here are some of our favorite tribal tattoo designs: