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Style Guide: Tribal Tattoos & Polynesian

Style Guide: Tribal Tattoos & Polynesian

In this article we explore the history, sub-styles and contemporary artists who are keeping the tribal tattoo tradition alive.

Summary
  • The most well-known example of ancient tribal tattooing is on the mummy of Otzi who lived over 5,000 years ago.
  • Bold black shapes, dots, lines and repetitive patternwork are the main components in tribal tattooing.
  • Tribal tattoos have long signified not only social status, but also familial ties, meaningful symbols, and philosophies.
  • Polynesian tattoos are typically seen most often of the tribal-esque styles. Polynesian motifs illustrate rites of passage, wartime accomplishments, clan affiliation, geographic location, personality and philosophy.
  1. History of Tribal Tattoos
  2. Artists Who Do Tribal Tattoos

The art of tribal tattooing began with the history of humankind, in scattered places across the globe. Connecting bold black shapes, dots, and lines, usually made for ritualistic or sacred practices, are the main components in tribal tattooing. In this article, we explore more about the humble genesis of the tribal style, its history, and the contemporary artists who are keeping this ancient tradition current.

Tattoo by Haivarasly #Haivarasly #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Er Tubi #ErTubi #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Tine DeFiore #TineDeFiore #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

History of Tribal Tattoos

Perhaps the most well-known of all tribal tattoos are those of Otzi the Iceman. Found on the border between Austria and Italy in 1991, Otzi’s body was covered in tattoos, all of them incredibly simplistic and only consisting of horizontal or vertical lines. Each line was created by tracing charcoal into small incisions, but do not be surprised by their uncomplicated mark up; though he lived over 5,000 years ago his society was a surprisingly advanced one. A new study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology explains all of his tattoos line up with traditional acupuncture points. These tiny clues into life during the beginning of the Bronze Age give us an interesting viewpoint into the uses of the first tribal tattoos; they were most likely a remedy for illness or pain.

Tribal tattoo by Melow Perez #MelowPerez #tribaltattoos #chestpiece #blackwork #linework #collar #geometric #pattern #shapes #blackfill #tribal #primitive #floral #dotwork #abstract #tattoooftheday
Tribal tattoos by Jenna Bouma #JennaBouma #tribaltattoos #stickandpoke #nonelectrictattoo #snp #blackwork #linework #geometric #pattern #shapes #dotwork #tribal #primitive #tattoooftheday
Tribal tattoo by Fabricio Rizzotto #FabricioRizzotto #tribaltattoos #chestpiece #blackwork #linework #collar #geometric #pattern #shapes #blackfill #tribal #primitive #tattoooftheday

Primitive examples of tribal tattoos have been found on many mummies from various places around the globe, dating back various ages. The second oldest tattoos belong to the mummy of the Chinchorro Man who lived between 2563 and 1972 BCE and was found in Northern Chile. Tattoos have been discovered on mummies in Egypt, the oldest of these displaying a pattern of simple dots around the lower abdomen, but more recently a discovery was made of a preserved body that had more intricate designs including lotus flowers, animals, and the Wadjet Eye, also known as the Eye of Horus. Thought to be a priestess, the woman is said to have been mummified around 1300 and 1070 BCE. Her ink is also a great clue into the ethnology behind tattooing in various communities; many archaeologists believe that these pieces, in particular, show a very ritualistic and sacred symbology behind them.

Tattoo by Taku Oshima #TakuOshima #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Hanumantra Lamar #HanumantraLamar #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Jeroen Franken #JeroenFranken #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

The oldest mummy on record with tribal tattoos that are the closest to our modern day tattoo designs, was artwork on the skin of the Princess of Ukok. Believed to have died around 500 BCE in what is now southwestern Siberia, her tattoos depict mythological creatures and are extremely ornate. Much more detailed and pigmented than the findings in past mummies, the princess is a link to the evolution of tribal tattooing and modern tattooing. Her pieces are thought to signify not only social status, but also familial ties, symbols, and philosophies.

Tattoo by Tine DeFiore #TineDeFiore #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Victor J Webster #VictorJWebster #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Tine DeFiore #TineDeFiore #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

Another genre of Tribal is the Polynesian tattoo style. Practiced for thousands of years, this spin-off genre contains some of the main foundations of contemporary tattooing. Polynesian designs illustrate rites of passage, wartime accomplishments, clan affiliation, geographic location, personality and philosophy. With a great deal of iconography and symbology behind it, these works of body art have survived over the years thanks to preservation and respect for culture. Even now, many tattooists working within both styles of  tattooing are sure to be aware of appropriation and only practice this particular style if they are fully educated and trained within it. Large swaths of black, lines, dots, swirls, and abstract motifs and symbols are categoric in the Polynesian style as well, though they also tend to boldly depict abstract faces, and creatures unlike Tribal.

Tattoo by Dmitry Babakhin #DmitryBabakhin #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Jeroen Franken #JeroenFranken #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

Tribal tattoos have been found all over the globe, spanning thousands of years, and is, along with cave painting and pottery, one of the oldest surviving art forms of humanity. It is clear that mankind has always felt a deep need for expression and meaning; tattoos continue to be a method of that. Thankfully, these days, techniques, materials, and information is shared quite freely and the tribal tattooing style is informed by varying examples of folk arts and aesthetics. Still consisting mainly of black lines, dots, and abstract shapes, artists continue to push the limits. Forming new symbols and merging their personal style with those of ancient tribal tattooing, there are many different modes that clients have to choose from.

Tattoo by Boxcar #Boxcar #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Cloditta #Cloditta #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Haivarasly #Haivarasly #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

Artists Who Do Tribal Tattoos

One of the most well-known tribal tattooists is Whang-od. Born in 1917, at 101 years of age she is the last of the great ‘Mambabatok’ (or traditional stick and bamboo tattoo artists of the Kalinga people) living in the Buscalan region in the Philippines. Mambabatok tattoos often depict bold lines, dots, and abstract symbols.

Similar work comes from contemporary artist Haivarasly, who uses the same simple graphic elements as well as black shapes, often to connect in a large scale work and bodysuits. Victor J Webster is a tattooist that does several different types of pattern and Tribal work depending on the project, including Maori, Native American, Tibetan, and more. His work is a perfect embodiment of the vast connectivity that is human artistic expression. Hanumantra Lamara is another artist that has smoothly connected modern and primitive forms of tattooing, creating his own fusion of Blackwork Tribal-esque style.

Tattoo by Dmitry Babakhin #DmitryBabakhin #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Cloditta #Cloditta #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Taku Oshima #TakuOshima #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

Since the interest in tribalist aesthetics has developed continually since the 1990’s, there are many artists who either create their own take on folk art, or stay true to the original form. Igor Kampman does many traditional Native American tattoos, including Haida tattoos which originated in Haida Gwaii, off the northern Pacific coast of Canada. These tribal tattoos often include abstracted animals like ravens, orcas and other icons most often seen on Haida totem poles. Dmitry Babakhin is also known for his respectful and devoted work in the Polynesian style, while Gerhard Wiesbeck works in a variety of tribal tattooing ranging from Celtic knots to sacred geometric forms.

Tattoo by Darby Woodall #DarbyWoodall #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Igor Kapman #IgorKapman #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Igor Kapman #IgorKapman #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract

Because tribal tattooing covers many cultures and histories, different styles have emerged within the genre. Like most cultural artworks, it is important to know the history and background of the tribe that you’d like to emulate in tattoo form. Often it is easy to disrespect tribes through appropriation of their sacred rituals and symbols for aesthetics alone. Thankfully, there are always highly skilled and knowledgeable artisans to help you along the way.

Tattoo by Darby Woodall #DarbyWoodall #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Dmitry Babakhin #DmitryBabakhin #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Hanumantra Lamar #HanumantraLamar #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Rafa Firmino #RafaFirmino #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Jeroen Franken, Rob Deut, Marco Wallace #JeroenFranken #RobDuet #MarcoWallace #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Tattoo by Thierry Rossen #thierryrossen #tribaltattoos #tribaltattooing #tribal #ancient #blackwork #pattern #linework #dotwork #shapes #abstract
Need help finding a tattoo artist for your idea?

The 24 Best tribal Tattoos of 2024

Experience the artistry of Rose Harley with this stunning blackwork and ornamental tribal pattern tattoo. Perfect for those who appreciate intricate designs.Details #sketchtattoo #linesTramp stamp Flames Butterfly stars and sparkles Wavy Wrist Fairy Band
Pattern work tattoo by Swasthik Iyengar aka Gunga Ma #SwasthikIyengar #GungaMa #color #traditional #Hindu #sacredsymbols #sacrediconography #pattern #dotwork #linework #blackwork#freehand #maui #polynesian #polynesiantattoo #raskinstyle #freehand #black #samoa #geometric Pattern work tattoo by Swasthik Iyengar aka Gunga Ma #SwasthikIyengar #GungaMa #color #traditional #Hindu #sacredsymbols #sacrediconography #pattern #blackwork #shapes #backtattoo #TribalPoly work by jones #poly #polynesian #polynesiantattoo ⚫️⚫️⚫️ black on Rhys .⁣ .⁣ .⁣ .⁣ .⁣ #blackouttattoo #heavyblackwork #heavyblackworktattoo #darkart #allblackeverything #tribaltattoo #blacktattooing #blxckwork #tttism #blackworkers #blackout #solidblackwork #darkartists #abstracttattoo #blxckink #blackarm #blackwork #blastovertattoo #blastover #blackworkerssubmission #allblack #abstractart #boldwillhold #blacktattooart #blackouttattoostyle#freehand #samoan thigh tattoo#Tribal#raskinstyle #black #Polynesian #bracelet