IMG_3917 (1)In my last post, I explored the fascinating link between storytelling and tattoos. In this post, I’m focusing on what are known as ‘tribal’ tattoos, their history, and our connection to them now.

Each tattoo is a singular piece of art, an expression of a person’s soul—from his passions and trials, to his memories and longings. They’re also a means of expressing individuality, while at the same time, being in community.

IMG_3928The history of ‘tribal’ tattoos goes back thousands of years. In the article, Tribal Tattoos History and Meaning at, author Josh Squires says, “Many of the tattoo styles we are familiar with today were rooted in tribal tattooing in one form or another.”

Indeed. And how many styles there are! It may well be impossible to list them all, but they include variations such as fine line black and grey (at one time notorious among prison inmate; think roses, portraits, memorials) Asian (think symbols, tigers, dragons) traditional (think anchors and pin up girl) and biomechanical (think sci-fi, industrial, robot). As well, we get ‘inked’ on our tongues, our teeth, and inside our lips. We get tattoos in UV ink so they’re fluorescent, and in white ink; we get them to give us the illusion of hair on our heads, and brows above our eyes.

Clearly, tattooing is embedded firmly in our cultures, traditions and daily lives in myriad ways. According to an article at Gnostic Warrior, entitled Ancient Tattoos & Tribal Identity, author Moe suggests that people are drawn to the practice of tattooing because of a ‘collective consciousness’ forged by the blood and ink of our ancestors. He theorizes that our attraction to the practice “…is really a blood born trait and a memory of past lives, simply because of the fact that the sacred art of placing ink on one’s skin is one of the oldest customs known to man.”

It’s entirely possible; tattooing, I believe, is so intimate an expression of self. According to the Tribal Tattoos History and Meaning article, “In their respective cultures, these tattoos were used to identify wearers as members of a specific tribe, displayed their social status, and in some cases were employed in medicinal and religious rituals. The figures and shapes used in these tribal tattoo styles were often representative of animals or other elements of nature and tribal life. Depending on the design elements used, these tattoos told a story. The tattoos of warriors often included animal and other nature-inspired designs that illustrated the warrior’s strength and prowess in battle.”

Fast forward thousands of years, to present day. The popularity of tribal tattoos are on the rise. Why? Perhaps, like our ancestors, we too seek to embrace our own cultural identity, or to emblazon a symbol of our strength, thus empowering ourselves, or to assert our differences.

IMG_3927Jeremie Miller has been getting tribal ‘ink’ for well over a decade, and is proud of the fact that his left arm is now a ‘full sleeve’ design. “I got my first tribal tattoo when I turned eighteen with a friend. I got tattoos on my upper arms, but at times, I felt I had to hide it from society. That was about fifteen years ago. Now that it’s become more mainstream, I’m not as concerned about it.”

What drew him to a tribal design? “The symmetry and bold, powerful design appealed to me. About every two to four years, I’ve added on, but only to my left arm. Those additions have always corresponded with big changes in my life – when I graduated, when I received a Master’s degree, when I took a new job and moved.” But beyond that, what’s most special about them? “It’s me,” Jeremie said proudly. “It’s a unique piece of art that no one else has, and that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

In 1991, a 5,300-year-old mummy was discovered in the Alps, with over fifty tattoos on various parts of his body. To date, he is the oldest human known to have tattoos. From his age to ours, the popularity and variety of tattoos shows no sign of decreasing.

PLEASE SHARE: Do you have a tribal tattoo design? What drew you to it, and why?

Rebecca E. Neely is an author of romance, the paranormal and suspenseful kind. 🙂 Visit

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