Cultural Tattoos: What They Symbolize and How They Developed From Roman Times to Today
Tattoos have played a role in culture since ancient times, with their meaning changing over the years
Tattoos have played a role in culture since ancient times
Symbolism and sentiment are often linked and cultural tattoos are often an embodiment of this.
In tribes and cultures around the world, tattoos have been a traditional way to create unique emblems, to permanently mark recognition and loyalty to a certain way of life or a certain group of people. .
But over the years, getting a tattoo became more geared toward an aesthetic goal, and those cultural meanings began to fade. However, with more and more people reclaiming their heritage, cultural tattoos have started to regain their popularity.
So how have cultural tattoos developed over the years and have their meanings changed?
The history of cultural tattoos
Professor Margio DeMello is an academic and author from Montana, USA who has researched the anthropology of tattooing and the tattoo community in North America.
Revealing the history of tattoos, she said: “The form (of tattooing) that developed in the West, passed through the Romans to European civilization.
“The practice of the Romans and many other ancient classical cultures was to use branding as a means of marking convicts, slaves and other types of status directly on the body – usually on the head.
“This was happening at the same time as Indigenous cultures were using tattoos to mark, affiliation, connection and community.
“Then we have the military, France, Germany and England, those governments that at different times were tattooing themselves as part of a criminal sanction, as a way of physically marking the contract permanently. .
“The era of exploration through colonialism saw sailors come into contact with the native tattoo who then used these tattoos on their own bodies.”
Colonialism played a huge role in reshaping the world and with it the way the people of these occupied countries developed their own societies.
In the case of tribes in Canada, Dion Kaszas, an Indigenous tattoo artist who began his practice in 2009, recalls the first time he realized the relationship between colonization and tattooing: “In 2006, I went to a tattoo parlor to get some work done. on my right sleeve.
“As I was sitting there I saw this little little booklet titled Tattooing face and body painting of the Thompson Indians – Nlaka’pamux is our word for ourselves to the Thomson Indians is a word or title that has us been given by anthropologists.
“This little booklet was about our tattoo practice, and at that time I hadn’t realized we had an extensive tattoo practice because colonization has done such a good job of erasing that knowledge and understanding. “
What do cultural tattoos symbolize?
For Kaszas, each symbol he tattoos has its own meaning, but the aspect of having a cultural tattoo connects the current generation to their ancestors. He said: “Our brands show a celebration of the resilience of our ancestors. It is these ancestors who prayed, cried and fought so that we could be here today.
But how does he find inspiration to create tattoos that resonate with their ancestry? He says, “I’m starting to develop what I call Nlaka’pamux Blackwork. I go into the museum collections, look at our painted clothes and stretch them to fit the whole body.
“I also do hand and skin point tattooing, which uses deer bone. But I only use them for very special tattoos, like the majority.
But the actual design or symbol used is unique to each person. Dion explains, “the designs, symbols and patterns are given by a vision or a dream, or they are given to me in a dream or in the process that I go through to get these designs to ask for help to get the right ones. models.
“Every person is different, every person is unique, but I usually try to ask a simple question. Who are you and how are you connected to this tattoo? They must have rights, a relationship and a responsibility to vis-a-vis this design, design or pattern.”
What about temporary cultural tattoos?
Sarah Zia is a South Asian henna artist based in London. Henna is often associated with South Asian heritage and is a temporary method of getting traditional designs to stain your skin.
Ms Zia said: “In many countries in South Asia, when someone gets married, that’s when they apply henna. From what I heard the reason for applying the henna was that on the day the bride is usually very stressed and the henna makes you cold.
“So the pre-conceptions, they would apply henna like a little black drop – it helped the bride to freshen up.
“I think now it’s now enforced because it looks really pretty on your hands and it’s more of a cultural thing than an important reason. It has become associated with Eid festivities and celebrations.
Ms. Zia mentioned another form of henna called Jagua which comes from the Genipa Americana tree, found in the jungles of South America, showing that this method of tattooing does not only come from South Asia and that the designs at henna are not limited to South Asian culture.
She says that although the tradition started in South Asia, it shouldn’t be limited to that culture: “Part of me is happy to see that something that we’re so proud of, that we love to adorn our hands with, also has an interest in.
“For example, Rihanna has henna designs tattooed on her hand and it just shows something that brings everyone together because everyone has similar interests. We might all come from different backgrounds, but we like similar things.