The earliest evidence of tattooing in Japan is found in clay figurines with painted or engraved faces representing tattoos. The oldest of these clay figurines have been recovered from tombs dated to 3,000 BCE or indeed before this time. Numerous other such figurines have been found in various tombs dating from the 2nd and 3rd millennia BCE. These figurines served as ‘stand-ins’ or substitutes for living individuals who symbolically accompanied the dead on their journey into the afterlife. It is commonly held that these tattooed marking held strong spiritual significance. The very first written record of the Japanese practicing the art of tattooing is found within a Chinese dynastic history compiled around 297 CE

The Japanese were interested in he art mostly for aesthetic or decorative uses – in contrast to their earlier spiritual significance. The Horis – the Japanese tattoo masters – were the undisputed experts of tattooing in their time. Their use of colors, perspective and imaginative designs moved the practice in a completely different direction. The classic Japanese tattoo is a full body suit. Punitive tattooing eventually fell out of favor, but tattoos remained associated with criminality even as decorative and pictorial tattooing began a resurgence. In 1805, a Japanese translation of the Chinese novel Suikoden was released. It was illustrated with lavish color woodblock prints of its heroes, who were tattooed with elaborate motifs of flowers, animals and mythical figures. The novel was tremendously popular, and spurred a demand for similar tattoos. Despite this popularity, tattooing was officially outlawed for being deleterious to public morals. This was strictly enforced in the Meiji era, when it was feared that tattoos would make the Japanese appear barbaric to Westerners

But many Japanese continued tattooing in underground parlors, and the art became associated with yakuza gangsters for whom receiving a painful and illegal tattoo was considered evidence of one’s courage and loyalty to the outlaw lifestyle. Far from viewing them as barbaric, many Westerners became fascinated by the local tattoos. On visits to the country, the future King George V and Czar Nicholas II both received dragon tattoos on their arms. Though tattooing is no longer illegal in Japan, it remains a thorny subject. Many still associate it with criminality, and public baths and hot springs often turn away tattooed customers



Hanuman in India was a popular symbol of strength on arms and legs. The mythical monk is still today one of the most popular creations in Thailand and Myanmar. They are put on the human body by monks who incorporate magical powers to the design while tattooing. Women are excluded because monks are not allowed to be touched by them and because Thais believe women do not need the extra boost as they are already strong enough on their own.

For hundreds of years, the tradition of tattooing was venerated across the agrarian and forested landscapes of India. The ancient maze-like carvings on prehistoric rocks were copied by tribal communities on their bodies. They called the process gudna (burying the needle in Hindi)and flaunted the markings as jewellery – the kind of jewellery no one could take away from them even if they were to lose all their worldly possessions. Most of India’s tattooed tribes lived in the remote hinterlands of the country, where stealing of women by rival tribes was a common occurrence

The Apatani tattooing procedure involved using thorns to cut the skin and soot mixed in animal fat to fill in the deep blue colour. The wounds were then allowed to get infected so that the tattoos became larger, darker and clearer. The Indian government put a ban on this in the 1970s but the practice lives on in some of the untouched interiors of the northeast. Another tribe, the Singhpo of Assam and Arunachal, had distinct rules for each gender. The married women were tattooed on both legs from the ankles to the knees, while the men tattooed their hands. The unmarried Singpho girls were barred from wearing tattoos. Also prominent among the tattooed tribes of the northeast were the headhunting Konyaks of Nagaland who tattooed their faces to indicate their prowess in battle and headcount. Tattoos also helped in establishing tribal identity in the region, besides enabling recognition after death in a war or fatal accident

In Southern India, permanent tattoos are called pachakutharathu. They were very common, especially Tamil Nadu, before 1980. The nomadic Korathi tattoo artists travelled the countryside in search of clients. The kollam, a sinuous labyrinthine design believed to ensnare evil beings, is inked on bodies to permanently keep them safe and secure until reunited with deceased ancestors in the afterlife. Central India also has a long and barbaric tradition of tattooing. The Dhanuks in Bihar believe tattoos deglamourize women – this helps them evade the eyes of influential sex predators. Due to the prevalence of purdah, women from lower castes had to have visible parts of their bodies tattooed to signal their inferior status. On the other hand, the Munda tribe in Jharkhand, which values courage, uses body art to record historic events. The Mundas thrice defeated the Mughals and, to commemorate these victories, Munda men even today tattoo three straight vertical lines on their foreheads. The Gonds of Central India, one of India’s largest tribes, traditionally left much of their bodies exposed. The bare skin was covered with kohkana (Gondi for tattoos) to ensure they looked decent

The Santhal tribes of Bengal and Jharkhand have different tattoos for each sex, for different parts of the body and for different life stages. The men inscribe tattoos called sikkas on their forearms and wrists, named thus because they are usually the size of coins called sikka in the Santhal dialect. The number of these tattoos is always odd, because odd numbers signify life and even numbers symbolise death in Santhal cosmology. Floral patterns are painstakingly inked on the bodies of Santhal women, including their faces. It is believed the painful experience prepares a girl for motherhood and gives her the strength to face the challenges of life. The chati godai, for instance, is a tattoo inscribed on a girl’s chest when she attains puberty and, if not then, when she gets married. On completion, the tattoo is washed with soap-nut water to cool it and decrease the pain. Even among the tribes of western India, the craft of tattooing is revered, with tattoos having a close relation to secular and religious subjects of devotion. The Rabari women of Kutch have practised tattooing for decorative, religious, and therapeutic purposes for hundreds of years. A traditional Rabari tattoo kit is simple: a single needle and gourd bowl to hold the liquid pigment, which is made by mixing lamp soot with tannin from the bark of local trees. A small quantity of turmeric powder is also added to brighten the colour and to prevent swelling

The Kothari women generally begin the task of elaborate tattooing by bestowing blessings on their subjects while the Rajput women bear the emblem of Krishna’s crown on their arms as a mark of aristocracy. Despite the wails of pain, the ladies are always perfect in their designing of the symbols and figures. Tattoos are also used to strengthen the marital relationship between couples, with the symbol of Moon protecting his favourite wife and Lord Vishnu’s tools like wheel and lotus being marked on the wife’s palms to keep her secure. The tattoo motifs preferred by the Mer tribe of Gujarat also include holy men, popular gods and symbols derived from nature. A Mer woman’s most favourite tattoo design is called hansali, which extends right from her neck to the border of her inner feet. The temporary tattoo art of mehndi also has a deep rooted cultural connect with India, with the use of mehndi and turmeric being described in the earliest Vedic ritual books

While body art has been practiced for centuries in many Indian communities, it’s only over the past few decades that tattoos have become a fashion statement among urban Indian youth. Tribal adaptation of popular designs like the dragon and tiger and abstract art are gaining popularity among the youth. Memorial tattoos, which commemorate the death of a dear one or a much-loved pet, spiritual tattoos, and tattoos with the name of the significant other, are hugely popular too.



From southern China the practice spread along the silk-route. There have been a few periods in the history of the Far East when tattoos were accepted. Tattooing was mostly associated with the lower classes or the underworld. Though practiced in China for thousands of years, civilized and sophisticated Chinese showed nothing but disdain for it throughout this period. The practice become completely discredited after the Communist takeover in 1949. It was also held in contempt in Japan then greatly influenced by China in this regard

This changed in the 18’th century when artists became interested in the art of tattooing. For a period tattoos were very fashionable particularly among workers. The Japanese tattoo style even became the international trendsetter. Prominent Westerners were attracted to the Japanese style and even traveled to Japan to receive the artwork. The introduction of the Japanese style to the west contributed greatly to the short-lived vogue of tattooing among the Western elite at the end of the 19’th century

There are many parallels in the histories of tattooing in China and Japan. Firstly, both countries included peoples with rich tattoo traditions living beyond the direct influence of the center of power. In the 3’rd century CE, Chinese sources mentioned the Wa people who tattooed their bodies to ward off evil dragons. Until recently, the women of the Ainu people who still live on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan, had remarkable mouth tattoos. Tribes with their own tattoo culture have also long been a feature on the margins of the Chinese empire. Secondly, the practice of punitive tattooing, the public humiliation of offenders, occurred both in China and Japan. This punishment was essentially a life sentence as people marked in this way were condemned to a life on the margins of society. Thus a vigorous tattoo culture gradually developed within society’s underbelly. The third common factor was the boost that the art of tattooing received in both countries generated by the immense popularity of the novel Suikoden, in which the most important characters are tattooed

In ancient China people lived according to strict Confucian moral codes. 500 years before the birth of Christ, Confucius preached that civilized people should honor and respect their parents and ancestors. Any mutilation of the body, a parental gift, conflicted with these basic tenets and brought shame upon the family and the community. Cultivated Chinese viewed tattooing, like eating raw meat and shaving body hair, as barbarous. These activities characterized wild, uncivilized tribes living beyond or on the borders of the Chinese empire. The first report of a tattooing culture appears in Chinese writings dating from around 200 BCE. It describes the Yue people who decorated themselves with mythical figures to protect themselves from dragons and sea monsters when fishing.



Traditional tattoo of Thailand is called Sak Yant. These tattoos are associated with both Buddhist and animist beliefs and were popular in Thailand before the arrival of Buddhism. Sak Yant dates back to Angkor times 3,000 years ago and the art is greatly influenced by Khmer culture. The specific script used for yantra tattoos is a mixture of ancient Khmer script or Khom and the original Buddhist Pali script.Tattooing with bamboo has long been practiced in Buddhist temples where monks would receive religious texts tattooed by grand master monks. Throughout Thai history, soldiers would visit temples to be tattooed by monks and receive spells for protection, strength and invisibility. Thailand legend has it that the country has never been occupied as Thai soldiers are warrior ghosts who cannot be seen or killed by the enemy due to their protective tattoos


The belief is not only that the designs are potent, but also the chanting of prayers that accompany it. The implement used for the tattoo is nearly a metre long and as the monks do their work, the chanting begins until the tattoo is finished. One hand directs the needle, cradling the tip as one would a pool cue, while the other hand drives the needle in and out of the skin at around two to three times per second. The series of dots in the skin connect to resemble a tapestry. Bamboo tattooing is extremely painful but considered worthwhile to make the bearer invincible. Another technique involves the tattooist rubbing ink into the wound after the needle has penetrated the skin, while at the same time a prayer is said to impregnate the charm with its spiritual power. Thai monks have to undergo months of training to find the mystical place within them-self a place where they won’t be distracted. Only when they have found this place within can they orchestrate their mind, body and heart in the necessary performance of tattooing


Thai traditionalists warn tattoo enthusiasts that ordinary ‘decorative’ tattoos have no power to protect or bless them. In the traditionalist’s eyes they are executed using modern electric machines in the hands of tattooists with little true feeling. Consequently the tattoos lack authority and integrity and are perceived to lack magic. Such tattoos would have little power to act as a protective amulet or talisman or to bring good fortune to the wearer. Quite often, the tattoo will not be recognisable as it will be a Thai script reproducing prayers and sometimes it will be a ‘yantra,’ a pattern which is less graphic than an animal and composed merely of dots. Each component of each yantra, right down to a single dot, has specific and significant meaning. The traditional Buddhist tattoo is of a geometric design based on images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, the Lotus or some other type of Buddhist symbol that is said to attract luck, wealth and blessings as well as providing insurance against evil spirits


Another Thai tattoo that performs more or less the same functions is a Hindu Sanskrit tattoo that is based on the fearsome Hindu gods and deities such as the four faced Buddha, the Holy Eagle, the Heavenly Dog, Hanuman the Monkey God, and a Wealth Deity which make the evils spirits retreat. Many tattoos are of animals, the most popular being the tiger. The tattoo of a tiger represents the tigers’ spirit and the lower back is a favoured location as the tiger spirit will be in control of your life. Angelina Jolie submitted to the classical tiger treatment at the hands of venerated tattoo master, Ajarn Noo Kanphai in 2004


A special Thai tattoo to improve your interpersonal and relationship skills called the Golden-Tongued Bird ‘Sha Li Ka’, is to improve your confidence and speaking skills, and it must work because it is seriously painful as it is applied to the tongue. The tattoo inked on the top of the head is intended to ‘flood your head with blessings to protect your soul’. This is called the ‘Yuan Shen Guan Ding’ tattoo. It is said that the soul resides up there, right alongside one’s store of good luck, and also any potential for success in business and relationships. The placement of the tattoo on the body has great significance in Thai tattooing, the closer a tattoo is to the head, where the soul is thought to reside the greater the power of the tattoo. For attracting special wealth, there are hand tattoos. Pieces of 24K gold flake inscribed with the wearer’s personal data are hand-pricked into the palm. Could his be the origin of the ‘golden handshake’?



In pacific cultures tattooing has a huge historic significance. Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world. Polynesian peoples, believe that a person’s mana, their spiritual power or life force, is displayed through their tattoo. The vast majority of what we know today about these ancient arts has been passed down through legends, songs, and ritual ceremonies. Elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed, and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body. In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, or ‘tatau’, by hand, has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants, descending from notable families in the proper birth order. The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their ascendancy to a leadership role

The permanent marks left by the tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. The first Europeans who set foot on Samoan soil were members of a 1787 French expedition. They got a closer look at the natives and reported that ‘the men have their thighs painted or tattooed in such a way that one would think them clothed, although they are almost naked’. the mythological origins of Samoan tattooing and the extraordinary cross-cultural history of tatau has been transported to the migrant communities of New Zealand, and later disseminated into various international subcultures from Auckland to the Netherlands. The Hawaiian people had their traditional tattoo art, known as ‘kakau’. it served them not only for ornamentation and distinction, but to guard their health and spiritual well-being. Intricate patterns, mimicking woven reeds or other natural forms, graced mens arms, legs, torso and faces. Women were generally tattooed on the hand, fingers, wrists and sometimes on their tongue. The arrival of western missionaries forced this unique art form into decline as tattooing has been discouraged or forbidden by most Christian churches throughout history.

There’re still debates about the origins of Polynesian culture (debate details can be found by searching “Polynesian Culture” in wikipedia), but one thing we can ensure is that Polynesia is not a single tribe but a complex one. Polynesians which includes Marquesans, Samoans, Niueans, Tongans, Cook Islanders, Hawaiians, Tahitians, and Māori, are genetically linked to indigenous peoples of parts of Southeast Asia. It’s a sub-region of Oceania, comprising of a large grouping of over 1 ,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean, within a triangle that has New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island as its corners. People who live in these islands are regarded as Polynesians for their similar traits in language, customs, society and culture. Some people’s question about the differences between Polynesian and Samoan, Marquesans, Tongans or Tahitian tattoos (e.g.) can be answered here: They are just a branch of Polynesian Tattoos and each branch has its own subtle features. However few people know or realize the differences among them today

The tradition of Polynesian tattooing existed from 2000 years ago. In 18th century this operation was strictly banned by the Old Testament. In early 1980’s, tattooing started to get a renaissance. Since then many lost arts were retrieved by Polynesians. But due to the difficulty in sterilizing the traditional tools, the Ministry of Health banned tattooing in French Polynesia in 1986. Although many years passed, tools and techniques of Polynesian tattooing have changed little. For a strictly traditional design, the skill gets handed from father to son, or master to disciple. Each tattoo artist, or tufuga, learned the craft over many years of serving as his master’s apprentice. They vertically passed their knowledge and rarely spread it widely because of its sacred nature

Tattoo was a way delivering information of its owner. It’s also a traditional method to fetch spiritual power, protection and strength. The Polynesians use this as a sign of character, position and levels in a hierarchy. Polynesian peoples believe that a person’s mana, their spiritual power or life force, is displayed through their tattoo. Almost every Polynesian got a tattoo in ancient times. Tattoo masters are the most crucial people because they bear the meaning of symbols and motifs in memory and know how to combine them to create a meaningful work of art to each person. For example, sea creatures are very common Polynesian symbols, like mantas, sharks, bonitos and sea urchins. Each of them has a meaning related to its inner nature and embodies the meaning by tattooing it on to the body. Polynesian tattoo masters can express varieties of meanings by combining different Polynesian symbols and motifs together

Polynesian tattoo style can vary from island to island. It depends on the degree of evolution of various traditions from the original common tattoo designs, like Lapita, which is a former Pacific archeological culture. Ancient original styles mainly consist of some simple patterns, like straight lines, repeating on the body. These geometrical styles can be found in Hawaiian and Samoan tattoo traditions, or in tattoos from Fiji, Palau, Tonga, etc. Because the age is too far from nowadays, the meanings of these patterns are almost lost, or debatable. The most used styles nowadays, which instead consist of rounded patterns, are from Marquesas Island.Tattooing is a sacred ceremony in Polynesian culture. The tattoos and their location on the body were determined by one’s genealogy, position within the society and personal achievements. According to the culture of Maori, all high-ranking Māori were tattooed, and those who went without tattoos were seen as people with lowest social level. On the basis of mythology, human learned the art of tattooing from the 2sons of the God of Creation Ta’aroa. Tattooing was operated by high trained shamans (tahua) in the religious ceremony, who was an expert in the meanings of the tattoo and skills of the art. Before getting tattooed, a person should experience a long period of cleansing. During this period one would fast for a fixed length of time and abstaining from sexual intercourse or contact with women. The tattoo practice generally marked both rites of passage and important events in a person’s life. The addition of tattoos also made a warrior much more attractive to women

Generally, the head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because tattooing caused blood to run, the tattoo craftsmen, or “tohunga-ta-oko”, were very tapu persons. The full faced tattoo was very time consuming, and a skilled tattoo craftsman would carefully study a person’s bone structure before getting his art process start. Generally, the women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. The position of tattoo on women’s body was limited to hand, arms, feet, ears and lips. One saying is that girls at the age of twelve would get tattooed on their right hands, and since when they were permitted to prepare the meals and join in the process of rubbing of dead bodies.


The Maori of New Zealand had created one of the most impressive tattoo cultures of all those in Polynesia. Their distinctive style of tattooing, known as moko, reflected a refined artistry. The Maori tattoos used their woodcarving skills to transfer this craft into the carving of skin. The full-face moko was amongst the highest marks of distinction and communicated their status, lines of descent and tribal affiliations. The tattoos also recalled the wearer’s exploits in war and other major life events

According to Māori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a young man by the name of Mataora (which means “Face of Vitality”) and a young princess of the underworld by the name of Niwareka. One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka, and she left Mataroa, running back to her father’s realm which was named “Uetonga”. Mataora, filled with guilt and heartbreak followed after his princess Niwareka. After many trials, and after overcoming numerous obstacles, Mataora eventually arrived at the realm of “Uetonga”, but with his face paint messed and dirty after his voyage. Niwareka’s family taunted and mocked Mataora for his bedraggled appearance. In his very humbled state, Mataora begged Niwareka for forgiveness, which she eventually accepted. Niwareka’s father then offered to teach Mataora the art of tattooing, and at the same time Mataora also leant the art of Taniko – the plaiting of cloak borders in many colours. Mataora and Niwareka thus returned together to the human world, bringing with them the arts of ta moko and taniko

According to archaeological evidence, tattooing came to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesian culture. The bone chisels used for tattooing can be found in archaeological sites of various ages in New Zealand, as well as in some early Eastern Polynesian sites. Although the Māori practiced tattooing, there is no evidence that the Moriori people did. In New Zealand, It is in the early sites that the widest chisel blades are found, and this lends evidence to the theory that there was possibly a preference towards rectilinear tattoo patterns in earlier times. The head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because tattooing caused blood to run the tattoo craftsmen, or “tohunga-ta-oko”, were very tapu persons. All high-ranking Māori were tattooed, and those who went without tattoos were seen as persons of no social status. Tattooing commenced at puberty, accompanied by many rites and rituals. In addition to making a warrior attractive to women, the tattoo practice marked both rites of passage and important events in a person’s life. There were certain prohibitions during the tattooing process, and for the facial tattoo in particular sexual intimacy and the eating of solid foods were prohibited. In order to overcome this, liquid food and water was drained into a wooden funnel, to ensure that no contaminating product came into contact with the swollen skin. This was also the only way the tattooed person could eat until his or her wounds healed. The full faced tattoo was very time consuming, and a good tattoo craftsman would carefully study a person’s bone structure before commencing his art

The tattoo instrument was a bone chisel, either with a serrated or an extremely sharp straight edge. The first stage of the tattoo commenced with the graving of deep cuts into the skin. Next, a chisel was dipped into a sooty type pigment such as burnt Kauri gum or burnt vegetable caterpillars, and then tapped into the skin. It was an extremely painful and long process, and often leaves from the native Karaka tree were placed over the swollen tattoo cuts to hasten the healing process. Wars were frequent, and the warriors had little time for recuperation. During the tattooing process, flute music and chant poems were performed to help soothe the pain. Although the tattoos were mainly facial, the North Auckland warriors included swirling double spirals on both buttocks, often leading down their legs until the knee. The women were not as extensively tattooed as the men. Their upper lips were outlined, usually in dark blue. The nostrils were also very finely incised. The chin moko was always the most popular, and continued to be practiced even into the 1970s

The Moko is similar to an identity card, or passport. For men, the Moko showed their rank, their status and their ferocity, or virility. The wearer’s position of power and authority could be instantly recognized in his Moko. Certain other outward signs, combined with a particular Moko, could instantly define the “identity card” of a person. For example, a chief with Moko and at the same time wearing a dog cloak could be identified as a person of authority, in charge of warriors. These were undeniable signs of the “identity card”. It would be considered a great insult if the person was not recognized as the chief he was, and this could lead to “utu” – vengeance. The male facial tattoo – Moko – is generally divided into eight sections:

Ngakaipikirau (rank) The center forehead area

Ngunga (position) Around the brows

Uirere (hapu rank) The eyes and nose area

Uma (first or second marriage) The temples

Raurau (signature) The area under the nose

Taiohou (work) The cheek area

Wairua (mana) The chin

Taitoto (birth status) The jaw

Ancestry is indicated on each side of the face. The left side is generally (but not always, depending on the tribe) the father’s side, while the right hand side indicates the mother’s ancestry. Descent was a foremost requirement before a Moko could be undertaken. If one side of a person’s ancestry was not of rank, that side of the face would have no Moko design. Likewise if, in the centre forehead area there is no Moko design, this means the wearer either has no rank, or has not inherited rank


In Africa, where people have dark skin, it is difficult to make coloured tattoos as we know them. But they want to be tattooed anyway, so they have developed another technique – they make scarifications (this is not really tattooing, but it is related to tattooing) made by lifting the skin a little, and making a cut with a knife or some other sharp thing special sands or ashes were rubbed in to make raised scars in patterns on the body, it can be felt like braille lettering… These patterns often follow local traditions


Except for the 5000 year old man recently discovered in ice, the first evidence of tattoos leads back to the mummies in Egypt. The oldest tattoo was found on the mummy of Amunet, a priestess of the Goddess Hathor, during 2160-1994 BC. The mummy’s simple tattoos were parallel lines on her arms, legs, and an elliptical pattern below her navel. Interestingly, no male mummies found in Egypt had their body adored with tattoos. Egyptologists, today, are of the opinion that these designs symbolized fertility and rejuvenation in women. However, male mummies that have been found in other parts of Africa, such as Libya, have tattoos of images relating to sun worship, on their body. In the tomb of Seti I, dating back to 1300 BC, tattoos symbolizing Neith, a Fierce Goddess, who led warriors into battle, were found on men. The first known tattoo of a person was discovered on Nubian female mummies, dating to 400 BC. The tattoo image portrayed the God of Sex and overseer of orgies, Bes. Another form of early body ornamentation was ‘cicatrisation’. The word cicatrisation was derived from the French word, cicatrices, which mean ‘scar’. This form of body ornamentation was common among the darker-skinned people of Africa, so that their original color of skin would not show


Even though Quran does not support the idea of engraving on the body, tattooing as an art form and cultural aspect has survived in the Islamic societies of North Africa. Strict Muslims from the society considered tattooing as unoly as it was considered to be a cause of injury to the body, making the body, a gift of the god, as imperfect in the eyes of Allah. Tattoo was also seen as an obstacle in letting the water penetrate through the skin, hampering the ritual of purification in Islam. But there was a sect of Moroccan women that considered tattooing as a legitimate practice. There are also written documents from the early 20th century, stating that tattooing existed in the Arabic world at the time of Prophet Mohammed. Many traditional forms of tattooing exited in parts of North Africa like, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, etc


When Europeans were exploring Sub Saharan Africa, they discovered that the indigenous people of this region practiced a cultural practice of scarring the skin. The Sahel is the region in Africa that stretches from the country of Senegal to the Red sea. The largest tribal group inhabiting the Sahel region is called Fulani. It is also the most heavily tattooed tribes of the region


While contemporary tattoos involve puncturing the skin for inserting pigment, Cicatrisation involves cutting the skin more severely to create wounds, which results in a decorative pattern of scar tissue. This popular technique for scarring involves two steps – piercing the skin and then, rubbing the wound with ash. The latter step is primarily done to inflame the skin, which later heals to form a raised scar. The wounds are periodically re-opened, and inserted with a pebble or pearl, in order to enhance the raised effect. This process used to be carried out on young boys who were about to hit puberty. It was continued until they entered the adulthood. Each tribe had its own individualistic style. Other African body altering traditions involve extreme forms of body piercing. The basic purpose of the art is to exaggerate body forms by ornamentation. Lips are pierced and objects are implanted inside, causing the lip tissue to elongate and conform to the shape of the implanted object as the flesh heals. Coming back to tattooing, African tribes are still seen with tattoos on their body. Available in numerable designs and forms, tattoos are mainly impressed to portray the symbols, which are unique to their group. This helps them to recognize people of their group and also those that belong to other groups


A tribal people who moved across Western Europe in times around 1200 and 700 B.C. They reached the British Isles around 400 B.C. and most of what has survived from their culture is in the areas now known as Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Celtic culture had a long history of body art. Permanent body painting was done with woad, which left a blue design on the skin. spirals are very common, and they can be single, doubled or tripled. Knotwork is probably the most recognized form of Celtic art, with lines forming complex braids which then weave across themselves. These symbolize the connection of all life. Step or key patterns, like those found in early labyrinth designs, are seen both in simple borders and full complex mazes. Much in the way that labyrinths are walked, these designs are symbolic of the various paths that life’s journey can take
When Julias Caesar invaded southern Britannia in 55 BCE he wrote that the Britons colored their bodies blue in order to appear more fearsome on the battlefield. Based on this story, the 19’th century Irish historian William Betham has concluded that the name Britannia was actually derived from an ancient Celtic word meaning ‘land of the painted people’. After Caeser landed on British soil the Romans conducted many campaigns against the northern tribes that raided their empire in the ensuing centuries. With ancient roots, tattooing in Europe has a fascinating history. It is a tale of uneven development. The continent was repeatedly affected by influences that washed like waves over the land and then retreated, sometimes leaving pools behind. From a social perspective the meaning of tattoos has varied. At times a decorative tattoo was a status symbol of the upper classes while at others, it was a stigma associated with convicts and deserter.
Christianity deplored the decorative tattoo as bodily mutilation and prohibited it. Yet the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the pilgrim tattoo that proudly proclaimed the completion of a pilgrimage. These polarized reactions are doubtlessly related to the severity of the act of tattooing itself. Europe has always been influenced by cultures beyond its borders.
Celtic artwork has been around since at least 700 B.C. in Central Europe, the earliest recorded settlements being at Halstatt in what is now Austria, and in the 5th century B.C. centred around Lake Neuchatel in what is now Switzerland, the home of the early La Tène (see below) style of Celtic art, with its curving lines and spirals, sometimes combined with cross-hatching, mainly produced on metalwork. The Celtic tribes gradually spread all over Europe, taking their art style with them. As the Roman Empire expanded and absorbed the conquered Celtic Lands of Europe, continental tribes migrated to the isles of the Britons to join the residents of those relatively safe havens, and took their artwork skills to those islands. In these isolated isles of the ancient Britons and Irish, at the end of the known world of that time, Celtic artwork and culture survived better than on the continent. The ancient Celts revered nature and the elements, and worshiped the sun, moon, the stars and the Earth Mother, with a wide range of goddesses and gods. They celebrated their deities, ancestors, life, the natural world and its creatures, and the changing of the seasons through their music, poetry, story telling and art. Their poets and musicians, the Bards, and their wise holy men, the Druids, were very high up in the social hierarchy of the tribe, training for many years in their orally learnt crafts, as nothing was written down. Their artisans were also well respected, and were stone carvers, wood and metal workers. They created fabulous works of art in the form of stone monuments, also metal jewelery, weapons and armour, often inlaid with bright enamels
Their art normally had a purpose, often to impress neighbouring tribes. The stone carvings as monuments, memorial stones, or boundary markers, and the jewellery, weapons and armour to decorate the bodies and clothing of the Celts and their horses. An often over looked art was that of tattooing, although we have no records of exact designs, we do have contemporary descriptions of tattooed Celtic warriors, written by Roman observers, who made a distinction between permanent tattoo symbols, and the also common use of blue woad as warpaint. The number three was sacred to the ancient Celts, symbolic of life, death, and re-birth which was a matter of fact to them. They worshipped a triple-aspected goddess, the Morrigan, seen as Morrigan, Macha, and Badb. Many of the ancient burial mounds contain 3 chambers, and their art often used configurations of three, a common ancient symbol being the triscele. The triple aspect of the mind, body and spirit is still represented today in many religions
From the 2nd century A.D., the new religion of Christianity appeared in the islands of Britain and Ireland, and over the next few centuries spread through the Celtic Lands, monks journeying across the islands to convert the people. Many years later, these men and women became the Christian Saints. Interlaced knotwork art probably originated about 1500 years ago in the stonework of the Picts in what is now called Scotland. With the expansion of the Celtic Christian church, the Irish and Scots monks of early medieval times refined it in fabulous illuminated manuscripts, versions of the Gospels, and while converting the ancient people to their new religion, founded monasteries and spread their amazing artwork through the Celtic Lands of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia. These Celtic monks also built beautifully carved stone High Crosses, focal points of medieval communities, which can still be seen all over Ireland and Scotland
These scribes used knotwork, spirals, diagonal key patterns, and stylised human and animal figures (also interlaced) to illustrate their manuscripts. They probably worked in harsh conditions, presumably for hours by candle light, using primitive materials. They painted on vellum (streched and scraped-smooth calf skin), using feather quills and coloured pigments and inks. The inks were made from local and exotic sources. From close to home:- black from lamp soot, brown from oak apples and iron sulphite, orange from red lead, yellow from orpement (sulphite), green from verdigree (copper), blue from indigo and woad, white from lead and vinegar, and purple from the folian plant. From further afield :- cobalt blue from lapis lazuli, ultramarine from the Himalayas, and red from kermes (insect eggs from the mediterranean) and vermillion (cinnibar – mercuric sulphide). Many of the above materials are considered dangerous to use today. Egg white, or albumen, and gum were used to hold the pigments together for better painting. The artwork was sometimes tiny, and the museums displaying these works today, often have magnifeid viewers. Some of the original artists, hundreds of years later, were destined to be made Saints by the Christian Church
A few of the amazingly detailed volumes of illuminated manuscripts have survived to this day. The “Book of Kells” is one of the oldest books in the world, from around A.D. 800. It was probably made by Colm Cille (St.Columba) and his monks on the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Due to Viking raids the monks moved to Kells in Ireland with the book in the early 800s. The “Book of Kells”, the “Book of Durrow” (even earlier from 675 A.D.) and the “Book of Armagh” are on display in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Another ancient book, from 698 A.D., the “Lindisfarne Gospels” is on display at the British Library in London. Many other Celtic treasures, including religious relics, ceremonial objects, jewellery, weapons and armour, can be seen in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the British Museum in London. The Vikings arrival influenced Celtic artwork, by adding their flair to it, creating a hybrid style. Celtic knotwork remains a special artform of those Lands, a link between widely spread descendants of Celtic people around the world. Tribes and languages have come and gone, but the artwork survives as a link to our ancestors, representing a continuous, unbroken circle of life.


In Peru tattooed inca mummies dating to the 11th century have been found. 16th century Spanish accounts of Mayan tattooing in Mexico and Central America reveal tattoos to be a sign of courage. When Cortez and his conquistadors arrived on the coast of Mexico in 1519 they were horrified to discover that the natives not only worshiped devils in the form of statues and idols, but had somehow managed to imprint indelible images of these idols on their skin. The Spaniards, who had never heard of tattooing, recognized it at once as the work of satan. The sixteenth century Spanish historians who chronicled the adventures of Cortez and his conquistadors reported that tattooing was widely practiced by the natives of Central America


In 1920, archaeologists in Peru unearthed tattooed mummies dating from the 11th Century AD. Not much is known about the significance of tattooing within the culture of pre-Incan peoples like the Chimú who tattooed, but the elaborate nature of the designs suggests that tattooing underwent a long period of development during the pre-Inca period. According to Lars Krutak (Cultural Anthropologist and our Technical Advisor): “The Chimú of Pre-Columbian Peru applied tattoo pigments with various types of needles (fishbone, parrot quill, spiny conch) which have been found in mummy burials. The technical application of tattooing was a form of skin-stitching, and it has been suggested that women were the primary tattoo artists


Paleopathological studies of Chimú mummies (1100-1470 A.D.) indicate that the practice of tattooing was quite common among both males and females. In some coastal settlements, it has been estimated that at least thirty percent of the population may have been tattooed.” Later, during the Incan period, nobility NEVER tattooed because it was believed that the Sun God already gave them perfect bodies. According to Lars Krutak: The Gran Chaco is a vast arid plain located at the center of the South American continent. Tattooing in the Chaco has been largely replaced by less painful and infective forms of body-painting in the modern-era, it had “magical” implications in the past and nearly all indigenous groups practiced it. In 1750, the Jesuit missionary Martin Dobrizhoffer provided a rare account of the actual ritual among the now-extinct Abipón. His observations are said to have been typical of all Chaco groups that practiced tattooing in the past


Early Jesuit accounts testify to widespread practice of tattooing among Native Americans. Among the Chickasaw, outstanding warriors were recognised by their tattoos. among the Ontario Iroquoians, elaborate tattoos reflected high status. In North-West America, Inuit women’s chins were tattooed to indicate marital status and group identity. The first permanent tattoo shop in new york city was settled up in 1846 and began a tradition by tattooing military servicemen from both sides of the civil war. Samuel O’reilly invented the electric tattooing machine in 1891.


American tattoo art’s initial function as a sort of patriotic act inspired many styles that would come to define it. Artist Paul Rogers, owner of a trailer that came to be known as the Iron Factory, got his start tattooing soldiers with eagles and other winged creatures. He’d go on to influence Ed Hardy and others, both with his technology and his aesthetic, which included American flags, plump hearts and buxom women. And, although the U.S. Navy disapproved of pinup tattoos for a period, they were still popular among its members. Those would-be soldiers with tattoos that were deemed inappropriate due to nudity would go so far as to add clothes to their preexisting inked ladies.


While wartime America was keen on tattoos, in less-wealthy urban districts and overseas the art was mostly confined to a small clientele. Like most aesthetic trends, tattooing didn’t make its way to rural America quickly. Small-town introductions to body ink came via the circus, where those with body art were billed as bizarre attractions. In 100 Years of Tattoos, author David McComb digs into the fascinating underbelly of the industry. He discusses the gender divide among tattooed circus performers, and provides elucidating captions for images of women covered head-to-toe in body art. A picture of a totally inked woman, then employed as a sideshow act, depicts her posing proudly, covered in religious iconography and regal, historical portraits. Women participated in the bubbling tattoo industry, which still remained beneath the surface of popular culture through the buttoned-up 1950s and early 60s. Notably, their inked art was at times an act of submission, especially among biker gangs. One spread in McComb’s book pictures a girl showing off a growing sleeve of hearts, with “Property of Alan” scrawled above it. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when what the author calls “the macho world of ink” was opened to women in new and empowering ways, that more feminine designs such as subtle shading and floral imagery became popular. Still, by 1979, female tattoo artists such as SuzAnne Fauser, whose depiction of a powerful pirate donning a stern expression and thick tresses can be seen below, struggled to make their mark in the industry. McComb meticulously explores these corners of the industry, highlighting everything from the significance of tattooing within prisons to the impact of the Western-influenced ban Japan placed on tattoos at the end of the 19th century.