Culture Tattoo

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The tattoo from its origin to today

As a symbol of rebellion and liberation among young people. As proof of love for the couple or a mother. As a memory of a loved one or symbol of power. The history of the tattoo is included in a book of centuries, and although it seems a novel technique, to really talk about tattoo is to speak of an ancient art.

Nowadays it is easy to walk down the street and meet people who have tattooed some part of their body. The preferred areas when capturing an eternal ink drawing are usually the arms, ankles and back, although you would be really surprised if you knew the places of the human body where tattooists have come to work. Perhaps in its origins, the human being was more risky, because he did not mind tattooing his face or even his entire body. The tattoo, with different techniques and pigments, was a symbol of prehistory and became an identifying element of pirates, prisoners and thugs. With the 80s of the twentieth century, tattoo fashion gained strength, and the word democracy apparently went hand in hand with the tattoo. Is it an element of a specific social sector? Although it has always been associated with heavy or rocky, really a tattoo can become a fine element, elegant and sometimes even sexy. The important thing is to feel good, tattoos!

The tattoo in prehistory

Let’s look back. We have to move to the Stone Age to find the historical origins of the tattoo. At the beginning of the 90s, the remains of a Neolithic era hunter who had his back and knees tattooed were found on a glacier, although before this prehistoric mummy, the remains of the Egyptian goddess of love and fertility were discovered ; Priestess Amunet. Another example is found in the cave of Aurignac (France), where remains of small bones were found, which, due to what was investigated, could have been used to tattoo. These tattoos used to have linear and simple shapes, with dotted and striped designs.

61 Tatuajes de Otzi
The tattoos of the Otzi Neolithic also called the Iceman are over 5300 years old!
tatuaje de momia egipto
The tattoos of this mummy are over 3300 years old. This Egyptian lived in the time of the famous Pharaoh Toutankhamon!
tatuaje princesa siberiana
This mummy is that of a Siberian princess who wore magnificent tattoos more than 2,500 years ago.

The origin of tattoos and their related divine beliefs

We moved to the year 1,000 B.C. In these times, the ancient settlers of Polynesia have already begun to engrave different geometric patterns on almost all of their skin. If we analyze the etymology of the concept, we will appreciate that the word «tattoo» is of Polynesian origin («ta» means hitting, «tau-tau» refers to the clash between two bones). Something very similar is found in the Moko Maori style of New Zealand, which is the clear example of tribal tattoo. The tattoo in tribal societies began to be present after 8 years and extended gradually and painfully throughout life. That person who carried more tattoos on his body showed that he had a greater social rank. Lthe Maori considered that thanks to tattoos they would be able to catch the cosmic energy, so that if their deceased did not have tattoos, the sorceress would end up eating their eyes and the deceased’s soul would not reach immortality. In the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, the erotic-sexual meaning of the tattoo was beginning to be seen, since women tattooed their fingers and ears, as well as the vulva with obscene symbols. This civilization considered that at death, the skin should be removed from the body, since the guardian of paradise did not like tattoos. Discover our photo gallery of Maories tattoos.

tatuaje maori
Example of Maori tattoo that was used at this time
Tatuaje polinesio
Polynesian tattoo styles

The tattoo used as a punishment mark for some

The tattoo as a symbol of punishment was also a widespread conception in the Greek and Roman times. Greek and Roman doctors began to practice tattoo removal. The Christian emperor Constantine, issued a decree in which he condemned in Rome this practice described as «marginal.»

In ancient Burma, it was very common for women to tattoo their face with coal and a thorn, with the intention that their beauty disappeared and thus avoid being rejected by the King of Myanmar. Although today it is difficult to find young girls tattooed in Burma, it is true that in some isolated villages this painful practice is still seen in which, when it comes to tattooing around the mouth, the woman can only feed on the basis of liquids. Likewise, the indigenous people Taroko (Taiwan), also used to get facial tattoos when they reached maturity, since only those tattooed could cross the Rainbow Bridge to the sky.

The tattoo achieved entry through trade routes to India, China and Japan, being reserved for those who had committed serious crimes. Emperor Matsuhito, before the opening of Japan to the west, decided to ban tattoos so as not to give the impression of savagery to foreigners.

venta de esclavos en la epoca romana
The Roman or Greek slaves were tattooed to differentiate them easily.

The arrival of the tattoo in the West

The tattoo would reach the west thanks to the explorers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Captain Cook, who was surprised at everything seen in the villages of Las Marquesas and the Maori. All this explains the relationship that has always existed between tattoos and sailors. Without going any further, members of British royalty returning from their expeditions through the South Seas had their right arm tattooed as a reminder of their work. It was very common to tattoo on the knuckles the words «Hold Fast» («stand firm»), torches (typical of the marines that had crossed the Atlantic waters) and dragons (sailors who had traveled to China).

Marineros tatuaje
Sailors tattooing after discovering tattoo art in their explorations
Marino tatuaje
Another example of an illustration with a Polynesian-style tattooed sailor

A more recent example of tattoo history is found in Nazi Germany. The prisoners of the concentration camps were tattooed as a symbol of identification and humiliation, as if they were cattle. Remember that the Jewish Law did not tolerate the marks on the human body.

An example of a tattoo where you can see the numbers of the prisoners

The prison tattoo

Prison tattoos deserve a special chapter, since the prisoners were among the first social groups to use this technique as an identifying, rebellious and prison pact element. They usually respond to religious issues or the devil in the case of prisoners accused of rape, agnostics and atheists. Others decide to tattoo their name or initials, although the essence of the prison was always the affective tattoo. From the Greeks the names of his mother or his beloved woman, a symbol of eternal love, were tattooed in the chest area. Aggressive tattoos (birds of prey, wild animals, daggers, swords and even skulls) are an example of the fierce and even murderous character of inmates. Throughout history, prisoners have always tried to capture in their skin the cruelties of life they have been through; Authentic ink books. Another alternative is found in the erotic-sexual tattoo, present for centuries. The primitive Japanese tattoos used to pay special tribute to the figure of the geisha. Prisoners usually tattoo the area of the arms, pelvis and legs with male (heterosexual) or butterflies (homosexual) elements, reflecting their sexual appetite. Currently tattoos are still done in prisons manually, as if it were a rite, using a radio engine from which a sharp object (pen, fork or knife) is released. The pigment used is usually Chinese ink or pen ink.


The first tattoo professionals with tattoo machine

In America, where the history of tattoos is legendary, we find one of the first professional tattooists; C.H. Friends. The first tattoo studio was opened in 1870 in New York by Martin Hildebrant, a German immigrant. His greatest competition was Samuel O’Reilly, inventor of the tattoo machine in 1891. It was a powerful machinery inspired by a piece previously invented by Thomas Edison. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were tattoo studios in almost all major cities.

Estudio-de tatuaje Martin Hildebrant
One of the rare photos of the great Martin Hildebrant tattoo studio
Maquina de tatuaje Samuel OReilly
The tattoo machine of Samuel OReilly!

If we move to our country in time, we can contemplate that the tattoo would begin to gain relevance from the years 60-70, when in the port areas sailors and wealthy people who had boats began to develop this practice. The tattoo owes much to the hippies of these years, who with their large and colorful designs made a technique that seemed forgotten resurface. Already in the early 80’s it would begin to extend to the upper-middle classes after the creation of an alternative and extravagant culture model. New cultural movements such as punk, heavy and rock began to boost the tattoo.

Although the hippies were the first to popularize the tattoo, today it is very easy to find tattooed the bodies of office workers, teachers and managers. The tattoo has become popular among all social classes, eliminating any type of stereotype that made it a technique of sailors, criminals and thugs.

medico con tatuaje
An example that shows that today tattoos have entered and completely banalized in our society
Hombre de negocio con tatuaje en la cara
Illustration of a Maori businessman with extreme tattoos on his face

Keep browsing and discover our tattoo photo galleries or come see the tattoo styles used today!