Table of Content
V. A Brief Overview of the Development of Tattooing Worldwide
(I) Origin of the Word 'Tattoo':
The origin of the word "tattoo" remains a topic of debate. It is generally believed
that the English word "tattoo" comes from the Polynesian word "tatau." However, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the term "tattoo" existed in the early 15th century (before England had contact with Polynesia) and had meanings such as light tapping (tap), striking (strike), thumping (thump), and drumming (beat a drum). The Cook Islands recorded the term "tatau" as part of the Tahitian language in 1769 when a Tahitian visited the islands.
(II) Tattooing Among the Ethnic Groups of Pacific Island Nations:
Tattooing has a long history in Oceania, especially in the Pacific island nations. Whether it's the Polynesians, Micronesians, or Melanesians, all have a tradition of tattooing. Understanding the origin, development, decline, and revival of tattooing in the Pacific region will help in comprehending the deep-rooted culture, religion, and traditions of the various ethnic groups of the Pacific island nations.
(1) Legends about the Origin of Tattoos:
According to Maori legend, tattooing was created by the god of earthquakes, Ruaumoko, to express his despair and reverence when he separated from his father, the sky god Ranginui, and his mother, the earth goddess Papatuanuku. Ruaumoko, the god of earthquakes, and the underworld goddess Hine nui te Po's grandson, Uetonga, was a master tattooist. Legend tells of a handsome young chieftain named Mataora who met and fell in love with Uetonga's daughter, Niwareka. The young chieftain eventually persuaded Niwareka to live with him. However, one day, after striking her, she left Mataora and returned to the underworld. Regretful, Mataora sought her out. On his journey, he saw Niwareka's father, Uetonga, tattooing a chieftain's face, blood dripping from the incisions. Mataora's face was painted with brown stone, but Uetonga told him that such tattoos were only suitable for trees, smudging Mataora's face. Mataora asked to be tattooed. Despite the swelling and pain, which required him to eat and drink through a funnel, he was still considered handsome, and the tattoos only enhanced his appearance. Niwareka recognized him as her lover, and they returned together to our world, spreading the art of tattooing throughout Polynesia.
(2) Purpose of Tattoos:
In the Pacific region, tattoos serve multiple purposes and symbols, including:
- Enhancing male attractiveness: Tattoos on men are attractive to women because enduring the pain of tattooing is seen as a display of masculine strength.
- Symbolizing a new beginning in life: Children often get tattoos when they come of age.
- Other purposes: Tattoos symbolize power, serve as amulets, represent one's identity and lineage, and indicate age, gender, social status, and personality. The significance of tattoos is so profound that not having one after adolescence is often considered abnormal.
(3) Tattoos and Polynesian Cosmology:
In the history of the Cook Islands, it was common for close friends and relatives of the deceased to cut the
deceased's skin with sharp shells, allowing blood to flow. However, these cuts were not random; they left scars in specific shapes and patterns. This behavior can be explained by the Polynesian cosmology. Polynesians have a dual-world concept, where the universe consists of two parts: one representing darkness, death, and spirits (the realm of the Po, TePo) and the other representing light and the living (Te Ao), similar to the Chinese concept of the "living world" and the "afterlife." Newborns are seen as having just arrived from another world, carrying impurities or taboos. Rituals, including tattooing, are performed to remove these taboos, transitioning the infant from the underworld (Te Po) to the living world (Te Ao). In the Marquesas Islands, this concept is applied to the deceased. The body of the deceased is repeatedly scrubbed until all tattoos are removed.
Tattooing is the most spectacular way for Polynesians to decorate themselves.
Tattooing is also a highly technical job, and experts in tattooing must possess the characteristics of an artist, a doctor, and even a priest.
Most Polynesians only have a few small patterns tattooed on their hands and feet, but the people of Marquesas Island are an exception. They ignore the pain, and everyone expects to be tattooed all over their body. Not many people can afford a full-body tattoo due to the high fees charged by tattoo experts and their assistants. Even a very wealthy person would need thirty or even forty years to pay for a full set of tattoos (including tattoos on the top of the head and inside the mouth).
The Maori use a more intense method compared to other islanders, adopting
spiral patterns for tattoos on their legs and face. The tools for tattooing are such that the person being tattooed cannot eat on their own until their body is fully healed. Their friends or relatives use a carved wooden funnel (more like a small chisel) to drip liquid food through their swollen lips.
In Samoa, the tattooing profession is generally hereditary. If one's ancestors were members of the tattooing guild, that person can engage in the tattooing profession through heredity. Tattoo artists can also accept apprentices, who can only work under the guidance of their master before being allowed to work independently. The wife of the tattoo artist, who is responsible for wiping the blood from the tattooed person during the process, is also respected.
Tattooing usually takes at least three months, and both the tattoo artist and his wife can receive generous compensation.
In the Cook Islands, there is a type of tattoo called "rauteve" (originally meaning the local bamboo leaf) which is the most painful of all tattoos. This tattoo starts from behind the ears, goes down the neck following the spine. The tattooing process is so painful that even those men of the highest rank cannot endure the entire process.
(III) Japanese Tattoos
During Japan's Edo period (1603-1868), the art of tattooing became a part of the
Ukiyo-e culture. At that time in society, prostitutes used tattoos to make themselves appear more attractive. "Laborers" and "firemen" often had body tattoos. Starting from 1720, tattooing was officially used as a punishment for criminals, replacing the previous penalties of cutting off a person's nose or ears.
The designs tattooed on criminals mainly came in two forms: a ring-shaped pattern on the arm or text inscribed on the forehead. This method of punishment lasted for 150 years until it was abolished by the Meiji government in 1870. During these 150 years, this form of punishment led to the emergence of a new social class: the tattooed outcasts. They had no status in society and were lost. Many of them were samurai who had no skills after the samurai class was abolished. Their only option was to band together and become outlaws. This might have instilled a fear of tattoos in the Japanese public, an impact that continues to this day.
Furthermore, apart from the influence of this historical policy on tattooing, the cultural development of the Edo period was another significant reason for the evolution of Japanese tattoo art. Around the 18th century, in the latter half of the Edo period, as the system declined, ordinary people gained more and more freedom and power. Traditional Japanese tattoo art flourished alongside other popular folk arts. Unlike the upper classes, the common people tried to break away from the influence of Confucian beliefs that had lasted for hundreds of years and began to create their own artistic culture.
During this period, the classic Chinese novel "Water Margin" was translated and introduced to Japan, where it became quite popular. The images of the 108 heroes in "Water Margin" were well-received by the Japanese public. Some so-called "greenwood artists" tattooed these heroic figures onto human bodies. As time passed, some of those skilled in tattooing became specialized tattoo artists. The Japanese tattoo art that developed during this process, which embodies a unique traditional Japanese art form, is known as Horimono. This Horimono tattoo art involves covering the body with vibrant colors depicting heroic figures, which essentially became a fixed style of Japanese tattoos. However, at that time, tattoos were associated with the lower class and were not widely accepted in society. During the Meiji government era, in an effort to emulate Western civilization, the government enacted laws prohibiting tattoos, considering them a barbaric act of primitive tribes. Interestingly, with the invasion of Western capitalism and foreign merchant ships entering Japanese ports, Japanese tattoos spread to the Western world aboard these ships. The prohibition on Horimono lasted until 1948. Some believe the ban was lifted due to the demand for Japanese tattoos by American soldiers after the war. Regardless, Japanese tattoos have indeed had a tumultuous history.
In modern times, tattoos have become mainstream. Some young Japanese view tattoos as a fashion trend, much like young people in most parts of the world. However, many still do not accept tattoos, associating them with the lower class and gangsters. Japanese tattoos are unfortunately linked with the notorious gang organization "Yakuza" in Japan. The Yakuza is an infamous gang group in Japan, organized around beliefs similar to the samurai code. To show loyalty, members must have traditional tattoos on their bodies. As a result, those with tattoos are often unwelcome. In Japan, there's an unwritten rule known to all: if you have visible tattoos, it can hinder job applications and other opportunities. Nevertheless, with the rising tattoo trend, Japanese society is beginning to tolerate those with tattoos. Regarding the future of tattoos in Japan, Kaya Yasu, who tattoos with chopsticks in Tokyo, predicts that in another decade, tattoos will become commonplace in Japan. It's also worth noting that Japanese tattoo art now has little difference from Western tattoos, and their traditional full-body heroic images are gradually fading in the currents of history.
(IV) Indigenous Tattoos in Africa
At the border between Ethiopia and Sudan, there resides a semi-nomadic tribe
known as the Surma, consisting of about 3,000 people. The Surma people have traditional customs of tattooing, stick fighting, and lip plate decorations.
The primary adornments for the women here are lip plates and ear plates. When a girl reaches the age of 20, a hole is pierced in her lower lip, into which a small disc is inserted. This disc is made by molding clay, adding red and black pigments, letting it dry, and then baking it over a fire for 20 minutes. This small disc is gradually replaced with larger ones, typically over the course of a year. The size of the disc is used to measure and select the most beautiful women among the Surma and also
determines her status. If a young woman is to be married off, a girl with the largest disc can command a bride price of up to 50 cows from the groom's side.
(V) Tattoo Customs of Nuba Women
The tattooing customs of Nuba women primarily stem from the pursuit of beauty and the need for beauty contests. Nuba
women undergo tattooing three times in their lives. The first time is around the age of 10, usually done under a large tree. The procedure is performed by an older woman using a sharp knife and a few sharpened sticks. During the tattooing, the girl lies on the ground, and the older woman first applies a layer of oil below the girl's belly, then draws a line, lifts the skin along the line, pierces it with the knife tip, and finally scrapes away the blood flowing from the wound with the stick. The pain from such a primitive method of tattooing is imaginable and is no less than the pain brought by the female circumcision custom in Africa.
For the second tattooing, the girl sits on a small stool. The tattooing starts from a
line from her breast to her navel and then extends to the sides of her body. As the tattooing progresses, oil is applied to the wound, followed by sorghum powder. It is said that this sorghum powder, treated with herbal medicine, can relieve pain, prevent infection, and promote early scabbing. The Nuba people believe that the larger the scar formed after tattooing, the more beautiful it is, especially if it remains prominent into old age.
The third tattooing usually takes place after a woman weans her first child and
lasts about two days. The location is the same as the second tattooing, chosen in a cave in the mountains. The third tattooing is the most painful and costly. On the first day, the entire back, neck, and arms of the woman are tattooed; on the second day, her thighs, buttocks, and areas below the thighs are tattooed. Women often twitch in pain from the tattooing, and some even lose consciousness due to excessive bleeding. To ensure the smooth progress of this tattooing, the woman's family must provide the tattoo artist with food, chickens, sheep, and oil in advance. If the family cannot afford it, the woman's relatives can pay on her behalf.
During the entire tattooing process, no one other than the female members of the family is allowed to watch. Only after undergoing the third tattooing can a woman be considered a candidate for the title of "beauty." To qualify as a beauty candidate or to seek the crown of beauty, Nuba women must walk the long path of tattooing and undergo a "trilogy" of physical torment. The price of blood and pain is ultimately just a continuation of a tradition.
Tattoos have been discovered on Egyptian mummies dated around 2000 BC. Records of the Thracians, Greeks, Gauls, ancient Germans, and ancient Britons all mention tattoos. In ancient Rome, criminals and slaves were tattooed.
After the rise of Christianity in the 1st century AD, tattoos were prohibited throughout Europe, but the practice persisted in the Middle East and other regions. Europeans rediscovered tattooing during the Age of Exploration when they came into contact with Native Americans and Polynesians. Influenced by the Polynesians, tattoo parlors catering to European and American sailors appeared in many port cities worldwide. From the 16th to 17th centuries, Western sailors introduced the colorful tattoo culture of New Zealand to Europe. The first sailor to bring tattoos back to Europe in 1691, known as the "Tattooed Prince," had 338 tattoo designs on his body.
In 1891, the first electric tattoo machine was patented in the United States, which became a hub for new tattoo designs. Especially after American tattoo designs spread worldwide, themes depicting naval life, military content, patriotism, romance, and religious fervor became standardized globally.
In the 19th century, released criminals in the US and deserters in the UK were tattooed. Later, prisoners in Siberian prisons and detainees in Nazi concentration camps were also marked. In the late 19th century, tattoos became fashionable among the British upper class.
After World War I, most of those who got tattoos were women, often to commemorate loved ones lost in the war. They typically chose designs like birds, butterflies, red roses, or the names of their loved ones.
In the early 20th century, street gangs or motorcycle gangs often used tattoos as identifiers. Ethnic-specific styles began to fade. Tattoos have almost disappeared or become extinct in most parts of the world, except for specific medical purposes or the tattoo styles of the West, Japan, and other regions, which regained interest in the 1990s.
In Thailand, tattoos primarily feature Buddha images and Buddhist scriptures, believed to possess immense spiritual power. When asked about the meaning of tattoos, Thais might mimic a shooting gesture, indicating protection and safety. They believe tattoos can bring good luck, ward off evil, and provide energy, especially sexual energy.
The Pygmies, a type within the Negrito-Australoid race, are found in Central Africa, the Andaman Islands, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, and some islands in Oceania. Pygmies mature and can marry by the age of 8. Adults average a height of 1.30 to 1.40 meters. The world's shortest people, Pygmy women consider facial tattoos a beauty mark. They pierce their lips and hang colorful beads around their necks. Men of the Padaung tribe in Myanmar tattoo various colorful patterns on their abdomens for decoration.
The Khoikhoi people of the Amazon basin in South America enjoy full-body tattoos and pierce their lips and ears, hanging beads and decorating with lip rings. The length of the lip ring also indicates social status.
Ancient Egyptian tattoos were seen as interpretations of social rank and tribal alliances. It's estimated that during the Stone Age, about 14,000 years ago, mummies were stored in Egyptian pyramids for over 4,000 years, and both male and female nobles, had distinct tattoo masterpieces.
Arabian tattoos are primarily for women. The significant difference between their tattoos and those in Western countries is that Western tattoos, similar to Chinese "tattoos," are permanent, while Arabian tattoos are drawn with a special pen and can be altered if desired.
VI. General Tattoo Style Classification
1. New School and Old School
New School is an American tattoo style, also known as American Neo-Traditional. It is based on the Old School style but introduces new elements. While it
continues to draw from the Old School themes of cartoons, pin-up girls, sailor life, swallows, worker elements, and hippie elements, the New School style also incorporates exaggerated elements from anime, video games, and street graffiti. In terms of color, compared to the Old School's more straightforward large areas of solid color and unvarying lines, the New School is self-explanatory. It features varied line thickness with a strong rhythmic sense, and its color combinations include solid colors, gradients, analogous colors, and complementary colors, creating a striking visual impact. The Old School style was the fashionable choice for the youth of its time, while the New School represents the attitude and style chosen by today's young generation.
2. Tribal Style
Tribal culture has had a significant influence on the tattoo industry. You can see tribal designs printed on the T-shirts of motorcycle gangs. They used shark teeth and animal bone spikes tied to wooden sticks, dipped in ink, and then tapped into the skin. The designs are mostly in black, composed of varying line thicknesses. The totems we see today evolved from this style.
3. Biker Style
In the 1960s, American bikers were the group most closely associated with tattoos
in the country, even more so than sailors. The tattoo style and content of bikers were distinctly different from traditional tattoos. They were almost entirely black, done with a single needle, and had delicate lines. They were often associated with Chicano and prisoner tattoos. Biker tattoos also differed from the traditional working-class tattoo designs. Their themes were not related to patriotism or the military, and they clearly exhibited anti-social sentiments.
4. Japanese Style
In Japan, tattoos were originally often placed on the face, dating back to around 300 BC. Heroes and warriors in myths frequently had designs of koi fish, dragons, and tigers tattooed on their bodies. These designs were often surrounded by regular wave patterns (also known as "cloud mist"), stripes, and flowers (including cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums, and peonies).
5. Chicano Style
The Chicano style refers to the descendants of Spanish-speaking Latin Americans in the United States. Chicano tattoos often represent loyalty to organizations, family, women, and God. Chicano tattoos began in the 1940s and 1950s, initially made using sewing needles, with fine lines, monochromatic colors, and a variety of designs, mainly handcrafted.
Tattoos are a powerful symbol of affiliation and identity. For Chicanos, prisoners, sailors, and others, tattoos can help them determine their status within a crowd and interpersonal relationships, reflecting both individual and collective identities.
6. Realism Style
In recent years, with the advancement of tattoo artists' skills and more sophisticated tools, tattoos have come to resemble surface paintings on the skin. As the categories of painting have diversified, tattoos have also evolved to incorporate more refined techniques, resembling a three-dimensional and lifelike realism style.
7. Portrait Style
The portrait style holds a special allure and commemorative significance for tattoo enthusiasts. People can use tattoos to commemorate deceased loved ones, admired celebrities, their descendants, and more. Due to the specific facial expressions required for character portrayal, the technical demands for such tattoos are more advanced. It requires tattoo artists to have a profound foundation and the ability to capture likenesses accurately. It represents a higher level of expertise in tattooing techniques.
With the rapid development of tattoo techniques today, tattoo styles are constantly evolving and updating. Tattoos in the style of traditional Chinese painting differ from other styles. They tend to emphasize the artistic conception and aesthetic ambiance of the artwork. While traditional Chinese paintings prioritize spirit and essence, Western paintings focus on physical likeness. Among the myriad of tattoo styles, the traditional Chinese painting style stands out as a unique and emerging category.
VII. Eight Reasons for Tattoos
1. Primitive Survival Purpose:
Primitive people lived in forests, coexisting with wild beasts. To camouflage themselves, they painted their bodies with colors or patterns resembling nature.
2. Superstitious Tattoos:
It's believed that engraving certain animal images or specific patterns can ward off evil or enhance physical strength.
3. Clan Symbols:
Many tribal cultures have tattoo traditions, often featuring religious totems for identification.
4. Commemorative Tattoos:
One of the most popular modern practices is to engrave the names of lovers or benefactors on the body.
5. Cosmetic Tattoos:
Both congenital and acquired scars can be concealed with tattoos.
6. Tattoos of Heroic Self-awareness:
To express a strong sense of heroism or as a symbol of dominance, tattoos are seen as an act of bravery.
7. Motivational Tattoos:
Engraving uplifting words or upward-pointing patterns on the body serves as a constant reminder to oneself.
8. Aesthetic Tattoos:
Purely for aesthetic and artistic value, transforming the body into a beautiful work of art.
VIII. Professional Ethics and Social Literacy of Tattoo Artists
Tattooing is an intricate blend of artistry, trust, and understanding. As ambassadors of this ancient craft, tattoo artists bear a significant responsibility in shaping the perception of the industry and ensuring the satisfaction and safety of their clients. Central to this is the respect they must show to every individual who walks through their doors. This respect manifests in various ways, from maintaining client confidentiality and ensuring non-discrimination to obtaining informed consent before any procedure.
Artistic integrity is another cornerstone of the profession. An artist's commitment to originality, honesty about their capabilities, and a relentless pursuit of learning and adapting to new techniques is vital. In a world where designs can be easily replicated, it's the artist's duty to avoid unauthorized copying and to always give credit where it's due.
However, beyond the art lies the critical aspect of health and safety. The sanctity of sterilization, continuous training on the latest health protocols, and transparency about safety measures are non-negotiables in the tattooing world. Any lapse can have severe repercussions, not just for the client but for the reputation of the industry as a whole.
In today's globalized world, a tattoo artist's social responsibility extends beyond the confines of their studio. They must be culturally sensitive, understanding the deeper meanings behind symbols and designs from various cultures. This is especially important in preventing cultural appropriation and ensuring tattoos are done with respect and understanding. Moreover, as members of the community, their responsibility includes environmental consciousness, using sustainable products, and engaging positively within their local communities.
Professionalism remains the backbone of any successful tattoo artist. This encompasses everything from punctuality and clear communication to effective conflict resolution. Every interaction, whether with a client or a peer, should be approached with respect and understanding. After all, personal conduct, both within the studio and outside, reflects not just on the individual artist but on the tattoo community as a whole.
In conclusion, the world of tattooing is as much about ethics and social literacy as it is about art. By upholding these values, tattoo artists not only elevate their craft but also contribute to a more understanding and respectful society.