they are definitely internationally known… you don’t have to share the same language to understand what a tattoo can represent… how it can be important to someone… that it symbolizes something incredibly deep, special and often times to mark a day in time… to always remember said day.
I wanted to embark on a post about Tattoos… it appears I will be doing a couple at least… this one… it’s about the history of the tattoo… a little brief insight to what and where they come from… and potentially why we adorn ourselves with them now even.
It is part of the skin… therefore… it is in my opinion a part of Esthetics… knowing is something I seek out… knowledge, details, to form good choices… or at least that’s my attempt. I hope you enjoy the history lesson 🙂
The word TATTOO is said to have two major derivations: From the Polynesian word ‘ta’ which means striking something and the Tahitian word ‘tatua’ which means “to mark something”.
The History of tattooing appears to have begun over 5000 years ago, and obviously as extremely diverse as the people who who them.
Initially it is assumed that the first tattoo’s were created purely by accident; someone having a small wound, would rub it with a hand that had dirt, soot and ashes from a fire to cure the wound of infection, however, once the wound had healed, they would realize that the mark stayed either permanently or for many years embedded within their skin.
In 1999, a five thousand year old tattooed man “Otzi the Ice Man” made headlines in newspapers all over the world when his frozen body was discovered between Italy and Austria on a mountain. This was the best preserved human from this period of time ever found. That being said his skin also had 57 well preserved tattoos: a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys and numerous parallel lines on the ankles. The position of the tattoo marks suggests that they were probably applied for possible therapeutic reasons (assumed treatment of arthritis).
In 1948, 120 miles north of the border between Russia and China, Russian Archaeologist Sergei Rudenko began excavating a group of tombs, or Kurgans, in the high Altai mountains of western and southern Siberia. Mummies that were found dating from around 2400 years ago. The tattoos on their bodies represent a variety of animals; Griffins and Monsters were thought to have a magical significance but some elements are believed to be purely decorative. Tattoos of this time were believed to reflect the status of the individual.
Written records, physical remains, and works of art relevant to Egyptian tattoo were virtually ignored by earlier Egyptologists influence by prevailing social attitudes toward the era they were practicing within. Today, however, we know that there have been bodies recovered dating to as early XI Dynasty exhibiting the art form of tattoo. In 1891, archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of Amunet, a priestess of the Goddess Hathor, at Thebes who lived sometime between 2160 BC and 1994 BC. She displayed several lines and dots tattooed about her body, grouping dots and or dashes were aligned into abstract geometric patterns. This art form was restricted to women only, and usually these women were associated with ritualistic practice. The Egyptians spread the practice of tattooing through the world.
By 2000 BC the art of tattooing had been stretched out as far as southeast Asia. The Ainu (Western Asian Nomads) then brought it with them as they moved onto Japan.
Earliest evidence of tattooing in Japan was found in the form of clay figurines which have faces painted or engraved to represent tattoo marks. The oldest of said figurines of this kind have been recovered from tombs dated 3000 BC and older. Many other such figurines have been found within tombs dating from the 3rd millennia BC. These served as stand-ins for living individuals who symbolically accompanied the dead on their journey into the unknown. It is believed that the tattoo marks had religious or magical significance.
The first written record of Japanese tattooing is found in a Chinese Dynastic history compiled in 297 AD. The Japanese were interested in the art mostly for its decorative attributes, as opposed to magical ones. The Horis, the Japanese tattoo artists were undisputed masters. Their usage of colors, perspectives and imaginative designs gave the practice an entire new angle. The classic Japanese tattoo, is a full body suit.
In Pacific culture tattooing has held a huge historic significance, it is also considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world. Polynesian people believe that a persons “Mana” – their spiritual power of life force, is displayed through their tattoo. The vast amount of what is known today about these ancient arts have been passed down through legends, songs and ritual ceremonies. Elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body.
In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, or “Tatua”, by hand has long been difined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants descending from notable families in the proper birth order. The ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, and were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their ascendance to the leadership role. The permanent marks left by tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to their cultural traditions.
The first Europeans who set foot on Samoan soil were members of a 1787 French expedition. They got a closer look at the natives and reported that “the men have their thighs painted or tattooed in such a way that one would think them clothes, although they are almost naked”. The Mythological origins of Samoan tattooing and the extraordinary cross-cultural history of Tatua has been transported to the migrant communities of New Zealand, and later disseminated into various international subcultures from Auckland to the Netherlands.
The Hawaiian people had their traditional tattoo art, known as “Kakau”, serving them not only for ornamentation and distinction, but to guard their health and spiritual well-being. Intricate patterns, mimicking woven reeds or other natural forms. These graced the arms, legs, torso and face of men. Women generally were tattooed on the hand, fingers, wrists and sometimes on their tongue.
The arrival of Western missionaries forced this unique art form into decline as tattooing was discouraged or forbidden by most Christian churches throughout history.
The Maori of New Zealand created one of the most impressive cultures of all Polynesia. Their tattoo, called “Moko”, reflected their refined artistry; using their woodcarving skills to carve skin. The full-face Moko was a mark of distinction, which communicated their status, lines of decent and tribal affiliations. It recalled their wearer’s exploits in war and other great events of their life.
Borneo is one of the few places in the world where traditional tribal tattooing is still practiced today just as it has been for thousands of years. Until recently many of the inland tribes had little contact with the outside world. As a result, they have preserved many aspects of their traditional way of life, including tattooing. Borneo designs have gone all around the wor;d to form the basis of what Western people call “Tribal”.
Hanuman in India was a popular symbol of strength on arms and legs. The mythical Monk is still today one of the most popular creations in Thailand and Myanmar. They are placed on the body by Monks who incorporate magical powers to the design while tattooing. Woman are excluded because Monks are not allowed to be touched by them and because Thais believe women do not need extra boost as they are already strong enough on their own. (Must admit I was initially irritated, but, I think I like that this culture felt women were ‘strong enough’ on their own!).
Due to the darker skin colors most African cultures tend to have, the tattoo as most commonly done by most other tribes and cultures takes a different path here. Another technique that isn’t technically “tattooing”, but is related to the tattoo; made by lifting the skin a little, and making a cut with a knife or some other sharp tool. Special sands or ashes are rubbed in to make raised scars in patterns on the body, it can be felt like “Braille” lettering. Each pattern often times follow local culture and traditions.
ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME
The Greeks learned tattooing from the Persians. Their women were fascinated by the idea of tattoos as exotic beauty marks. The Romans adopted tattooing from the Greeks; Roman writers such as Virgil, Seneca and Galenus reported that many slaves and criminals were tattooed. A legal inscription from Ephesus indicates that during the early Roman Empire all slaves exported to Asia were tattooed with the words “Tax Paid”.
Greeks and Romans used tattooing as a form of punishment as well. Early in the 4th Century, when Constantine became Roman Emperor and rescinded the prohibition on Christianity, he also banned tattooing on the face, which was common for convicts, soldiers, and gladiators. Constantine believed that the human face was a representation and image of God and should not be disfigured or defiled.
During the time of the Old Testament, much of the Pagan world was practicing the art of Tattooing as a means of Deity worship. A passage in Leviticus reads: ‘ye shall not make any cuttings on your flesh for the dead nor print any marks upon you’. (19:28) this has been cited as biblical authority to support the church’s position. Biblical scholar M. W. Thomson suggest, however, that Moses favored tattoos. Moses introduced tattoos as a way to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
There is no proof, however, it is likely the Vikings were tattooed in some fashion. At around 1100 the Arab Ibn Fadlan described a meeting with some vikings, he thought them very rude, dirty and covered with pictures. There is however, very little proof of this era in history to prove one way or the other.
Explorers returned home with tattooed Polynesians to exhibit at fairs, in lecture halls and in dime museums to demonstrate the height of European civilization compared to the “Primitive Natives”.
After Captain Cook returned from his voyage to Polynesia, tattooing became a tradition in the British Navy. By middle of the 18th Century most British ports had at least one professional tattoo artist in residence. In 1862, the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII, received his first tattoo, a Jerusalem Cross, on his arm. He started a tattoo fad among the aristocracy when he was tattooed before ascending to the throne. In 1882, his sons, the Duke of Clarence and Duke of York, were tattooed by the Japanese Master Tattooist Hori Chiyo.
In the 18th Century, many French sailors returning from voyages in the south pacific had been tattooed. In 1861, French Naval Surgeon, Maurice Berchon, published a study on the medical complications of tattooing. After this, the Navy and Army banned tattooing within their ranks.
A tribal people who moved across western Europe in the times around 1200 and 700 BC, they reached the British Isles around 400 BC and most of what has survived from their culture is in the areas now known as Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Celtic Culture was full of body art. Permanent body painting was done with woad, which left a blue design on the skin. Spirals are very common, and they can be single, doubled or tripled. Knot-work is probably the most recognized form of Celtic art, with lines forming complex braids which then weave across themselves. These Symbolize the connection of all life. Step of key patterns, like those found in early labyrinth designs, are seen both in simple boarder and full complex mazes. Much in the way that labyrinths are walked, these designs are symbolic of the various paths that life’s journey can take.
CENTRAL and SOUTH AMERICA’S
In Peru, tattooed Inca mummies dating to the 11th Century have been found. 16th Century Spanish accounts of Mayan Tattooing in Mexico and Central America reveal tattoos to be a sign of courage. When Cortez and his Conquistadors arrived on the coast of Mexico in 1519 they were horrified to discover that the natives not only worshiped devils in the form of statues and idols, but had somehow managed to imprint indelible images of these idols on their skin. The Spaniards, who had never heard of tattooing, recognized it at once as the work of Satan. The 16th Century Spanish Historians who chronicled the adventures of Cortez and his Conquistadors reported that tattooing was widely practiced by the natives in Central America.
Early Jesuit accounts testify to the widespread practice of tattooing among Native Americans. Among the Chickasaw, outstanding warriors were recognized by their tattoos; Ontario Iroquoians had elaborate tattoos reflecting high status. In Northwest America, Inuit women’s chins were tattooed to indicate marital status and group identity.
The first Permanent tattoo shop was opened in New York City in 1846 and began a tradition by tattooing military servicemen from both sides of the civil war. Samuel O’Reilly invented the first electric tattooing machine in 1891.