The oldest known tattoo is that found on Oetzi, a Bronze Age warrior who lived some fifty-three centuries ago. Oetzi’s remains were founding 1991 preserved in the ice of the of an Alpone glacier on the border of Austria and Italy. Oetzi actually had fifty-seven separate tattoos, and although no one really knows their significance, it is possible that his intersecting and parallel lines are the earliest yet discovered example of tribal art tattoos. If so, Oetzi would be surprised to learn that he is quite the 21st century trend-setter.
In a world gone tattoo-mad, tribal art tattoos seem to have cause more than their fair share of the frenzy. They are the most requested, and most easily recognized, of all tattoos. With their startling black lines and sharply defined abstract shapes which somehow evoke animal, birds, and reptiles, tribal art tattoos remind us of a long-lost connection to an unspoiled world.
The term tribal art tattoos encompasses the tattoo styles developed by the by the African and Pacific Island tribal cultures, and of those the Maori people of New Zealand created the most distinctive tattoos. Their custom of identifying separate families within their tribes by cutting and coloring that family’s history into the faces of its descendants is known as Moko, and has been the inspiration for many a modern facial tribal art tattoo.
Maori tribal tattoo art is recognizable for its two types of patterns. One was a pigmented line, and the other involved inking the background and allowing the untouched skin to form the pattern. Many of the Maori tattoos contain spirals similar to fern fronds.
The Native American also used tribal art tattoos as a means of tribal identification, and their warriors had battle tattoos believed to provide protection; the tribes of Samoa, on the other hand, would cover their young men entirely in tattoos as a rite of passage into adulthood. Tribal art tattoos have been used for a variety of reasons, and very few of them were simply ornamental.
Tribal art tattoos did not make their way to the “civilized” world until they were brought back by nineteenth century sailors who were willing tolerate the extremely painful inking techniques practiced by the tribal tattoo artists. But the tribal art tattoos which have currently taken the world by storm are not quite the same as the ones which decorated the torsos of many a sun-burned deck hand.
The mainstream tribal art tattoos with which we re all so familiar are really a hybrid form of tattoo, which combines features of the ancient tribal tattoos with design elements first introduced in the 1990s by master tattoo artist Leo Zulueta, himself a Filipino-American. Zulueta has made a point never to copy directly from the original tribal art tattoo designs, because he considers it disrespectful for those not directly related to the tribes to wear their symbols of family and empowerment.
The most sought-after tribal art tattoos today are armbands; chains of knots, barbed-wire, or flames are all popular. Stylized animal heads and sunbursts are great for the shoulder or chest area, and circular navel tribal art tattoos are also quite common. The tribal art tattoo, in fact, works very well in emphasizing bodily contours, and there are many designs ideal for the curvature if the lower back. There is, in fact, a tribal tattoo art design to enhance every part of.