In the past, getting a tattoo was seen as a transition into adulthood – a rite of passage.
In some cultures, it was thought that if a girl could not endure the pain of tattooing, then marriage would become difficult because she was viewed as too weak to deal with the pain of giving birth.
Boys who could not withstand the pain of a tattoo were deemed unworthy to become a suitable warrior, which often meant tribal exile. Today, tribal tattoos are still used to pay homage to ancient ancestral ties, but also attract people because they are visually intriguing and expressive.
Tribal tattoos offer designs that are full of secrecy, deep with symbolism, and touched by a sense of history and belonging. An example of traditional tribal tattooing involves the Maori people of New Zealand, who reach higher levels of prestige through their designs.
Tattooing is so significant in Hawaii that specific tattoo gods have been worshiped throughout history. Often, prayer precedes tattoos in order to ensure a safe process and healing.
While some primitive tribes rely on tattooing to signify social status, people in the United States often select this kind of design because of its meaning, but most often because of its appearance.
The first tribal tattoos to hit America surfaced around the 1970s, as the simplicity and meaning of Polynesian tattoos of South Pacific islands attracted many. When looking for a unique tattoo design, tribal art is found in all corners of the world.
One may consider the Celts of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as the Celtic knot and the Celtic cross represent the never-ending nature of life and death.
The Maoris of New Zealand use tattoos to gain respect. African tribal designs often combine tattooing with raised scars and are quite popular with African American fraternities. Borneo tribal art designs are also popular, which creates a spiritual link to the ancient world.