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Tribal Tattoo Meaning & Ideas

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Tribal Tattoos are Historically a Symbol of Belonging

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What is the Meaning behind Tribal Tattoos?

The tribal tattoo design has been around for a very long time, maybe even from the beginning of the history of human culture. Now there are millions of people who proudly show off their tribal tattoos, but can they actually decipher the meanings of this popular design?

tribal tattoos 

Very long ago, in tribal societies these tattoos were a means of showing membership in a group – a tribe. Men and women would have a tattoo to determine which clan or tribe they belonged to. This type of identification is present in our time as people still feel the need to be a part of something bigger than they are.

tribal tattoo meanings

Something as common as wedding bands was not around in the Bronze Age, even very long afterwards. To serve a similar purpose, couples would have marriage tattoos to symbolize their commitment and love. Today, many people use tribal tattoos for the same reason, whether they are intertwined hearts or name initials, although professionals probably design and draw them much better now. But unless your love is certain to last, such permanent expressions of love are not a very good idea.

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The message behind these tattoos is, however, often much deeper than an identity mark or a marriage vow. In order to find someone or to achieve something great in your next life a tribal tattoo could work as an aid during reincarnation.

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During the rite of passage rituals a tattoo would help to mark those who succeeded in reaching adulthood. We can see this behavior even today when young people get a tattoo when they reach eighteen or twenty-one. The tattoo’s function of commemorating important events in our life hasn’t changed over the thousands of years.

tribal tattoos

Contemporary tribal designs only reflect the rich history of early civilizations. They cannot be labeled simply as body decoration, tribal art is art in its own right. Tribal tattoos served a specific purpose of determining to which tribe or social class its owner belonged. This was not only useful in identifying tribesmen, but especially your enemies. Such tattoos remind people of traditions and rituals, of their cultural heritage.

Tribal Butterfly Tattoo Ideas
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Through the whole spectrum of meanings to simple enjoyment of the beautiful geometry of tribal shapes, these tattoos and their symbolism can be found in every populated part of the world that has an ancient tribal history.

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The shape of a tribal tattoo was also helpful in determining the family tree, with each swirl or mark representing a different branch. Even today, there are societies that use this system to identify the branches of their tribes. This way when a member of a certain branch travels and meets a group they can instantly know how to react. As a symbol of adulthood the tattoos also functioned as reminders of the new responsibilities.

Tribal Lower Back Tattoo Ideas

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Deciding where the tattoo should be placed was a very intricate process. Tattoos that were supposed to protect one in battle were on the skin where the enemy could strike. Tattoos worn on the face also had importance in battle, like Maori facial tattoos. In combination with warrior stances and frightening expressions the tattoos were supposed to intimidate the rivals. Having the tattoos on the arms was supposed to help men hunt and fight better, it gave them the psychological strength of belief in their power or the power of gods.

Traditional Tribal Tattoo Ideas

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All across cultures it is very common that the passage into adulthood is celebrated with a first tattoo. Many eighteen year olds feel they have to show their maturity and manhood to the world.

Contemporary Tribal Tattoos

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Similar to marking the membership in tribes, gangs and criminal families also mark their members. Russian, Chinese or Japanese mafia, even American gangs do this just like some of the most famous tribes such as the Maoris, Mayans, Aztecs, Samos, Native American tribes and many others.

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Whatever the reason for having a tribal tattoo – membership, tradition or simply a personal symbolism – we can still admire this skillful art from today. This tattoo hides powerful symbolism as well as displays elegant design.



The structure of a tribal tattoo contained various different themes. Religious symbols were among the most frequently used. Also important life achievements or events would frequently be the inspiration for getting a tattoo. Participating in a battle, victory in a war or simply warring off demons and wicked spirits were all important enough to be included in the tattoo design. But even in the past, the pure desire for body decoration was a frequent reason just like today.



The placement of the tattoo was also decision to be made carefully. Most people would choose the fore arm and upper arms, pecks, shoulder blades or the calf. Obviously, these tattoos can be well covered up when one wants to look more decent, but they can be uncovered and displayed just as easily.


Tribal tattoos played an important role in the histories of many tribes and cultures. Their meaning varied widely from religious symbolism to personal milestones. Over time, instead of declining, this design grew more and more popular. Very popular among men, these tattoos are thought to increase attractiveness and sexual appeal. The last positive argument in favor of the tribal tattoos is that they can be placed almost anywhere on the body, most frequently on the back or the upper arm.


For more tribal tattoo images see Tribal Images Gallery

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