An tattoo artist use coil machine to tattoo a client.

Chapter 1:Introduction to Tattoos (Part 1) - History of Tattoo

What is a Tattoo

Today, many refer to tattoos as "纹身" (wénshēn). However, the more accurate term is "文身" (wénshēn). Tattooing involves using a needle filled with ink to puncture the skin's lower layer, creating designs or words. This art of inscribing various patterns on the body is seen as auspicious and a form of worship. Often known as "刺青" (cìqīng) or tattooing, it was termed "涅" (niè) in ancient classical Chinese. Tattoos transform the plain human skin with ideal images, making them timeless symbols of memories and life's beautiful moments. Contrary to some beliefs, tattoos were not solely marks of miscreants. Whether the design is text or a pattern, tattoos aim to delight both the wearer and the observer. Many believe tattoos symbolize beauty, mystery, sensuality, and charm. They also embody unique personalities, self-expression, and personal beliefs. As a blend of culture and faith, tattoos have captivated many, leading them to embrace this exquisite, albeit painful, art form. For many, it signifies a fresh hope, a renewed commitment, and a new beginning.

Different tattoo artists wear gloves use different types of tattoo machines to tattoo.

The Meaning of Primitive Tattoos

In ancient times, tattoos had diverse origins and were intricately linked to various customs across regions. As early as the era of primitive humans, ancient people would use white mud or fuel to draw patterns on their bodies and faces. The primary purposes were twofold: first, to beautify themselves, and second, to intimidate enemies. Early humans initially used clay, fats, or plant juices to smear their bodies because they believed it was beneficial. For instance, in ancient times, people would "apply ointment to their bodies in winter to ward off the cold." Over time, they began to perceive this body smearing as beautiful, and thus they adorned their bodies for aesthetic pleasure. Scars from battles and hunting, seen as marks of brave and handsome men, were admired by women and led to the popularity of body decoration. Many primitive people drew animals on their skin, which were considered totems of their tribes. Once these became established symbols of clan membership, tattooing evolved into a system. As for some ancient records that mention "tattooing to avoid the harm of water dragons," this represents another cultural belief. It's estimated that around 14,000 years ago, during the Stone Age, mummies stored in Egyptian pyramids that are over 4,000 years old had distinct tattoo masterpieces on the bodies of both male and female nobles. Tattoos were defined as interpretations of their social status and tribal alliances.

Two tattoo artists use an old Philippines tattoo method - Batok to tattoo a client.

Tattoos also held another special significance, representing the right of primitive people to engage in sexual activity. A wealth of ethnographic material indicates that although tattoos, as tribal totem symbols, were mandatory for everyone in the clan, there were specific requirements regarding timing and age. Typically, the tattooing process centered around coming-of-age ceremonies, either starting from childhood and completing during the adulthood ceremony or finishing a few years later. There have been no reports of tattooing outside of this age restriction.

Clearly, tattoos were synonymous with adulthood and the associated privileges, including sexual activities. Thus, the pain of tattooing is accompanied by the pleasure of young adults in primitive tribes gaining formal clan membership and the right to sexual activity. From this, it can be inferred that, in addition to the various sexual taboos mentioned earlier, primitive people also had age restrictions for engaging in sexual activities.

Do you have a tattoo with a special meaning? Share your story in the comments below!

Note: This Textbook should be supplement for a proper training, not replace it. 

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