From the earliest recorded times, tribal tattoo designs have played an
important role in many cultures and societies. Tribal tattoo designs
were often used to indicate membership of a particular tribe. Today,
many millennia later, tribal designs remain a popular choice of tattoo
design for those seeking a beautiful tattoo with historical roots.
What is the meaning of tribal tattoos?
Early tribal tattoo designs were an intrinsic part of the pagan
culture prevalent in tribes on every continent. In a world where evil
spirits were thought to roam freely, tribal tattoos were imbued with
great superstitious powers and used as a protection mechanism.
Tribal designs were also used to denote the rank of the person within
the tribe. In ancient times, social standing was considered very
important, and unlike in modern society where the trappings of wealth
are more obvious, ancient peoples did not have access to mansions and
sports cars, so they used tribal tattoos as a way of showing off their
various achievements in their hunter/gatherer society.
In ancient tribal societies, the more powerful you were, the more
tattoos your body was covered with. Different tattoo designs were also
used to differentiate between the most important members of the tribe:
leaders would always have the most distinctive tribal tattoo designs,
but the medicine men and witch doctors also had their own unique
But as Christianity spread across the globe, pagan rituals and
superstitious beliefs were slowly extinguished, leading to a decline
in the art of tribal tattoos. Although tribal tattoo markings are
still seen in some parts of the world, the proliferation in modern
tattoo art is more about decoration than a visible display of social
standing within society.
Modern tribal tattoo designs use various elements from traditional
tribal designs and intertwine them with other geometric lines and
curves to create new tattoos. Unlike popular pictorial designs, tribal
tattoo designs are always very striking with their monochrome style.
Can original tribal tattoo designs still be used today?
Anyone with a burning desire to have a traditional tribal design inked
on their body could easily do some research and find a traditional
tribal design to use, but it is important to remember that many tribal
designs are full of important meanings to the particular tribe they
originate from. If a tribal tattoo design signifies membership or
affiliation to a specific tribe, it could be considered an insult to
the modern descendents of that tribe for a non-tribe member to have
the tattoo design drawn on their body. So before you pick a tribal
design, do your research carefully and make sure nobody is likely to
be offended if you copy it wholesale for your own tribal tattoo art.
However, there are plenty of beautiful and unique tribal tattoo
designs available to choose from if you are keen to have a tribal
tattoo drawn on your body. Many tribal designs have been extensively
reworked and are only loosely based on original traditional tribal
Can tribal tattoos be incorporated with existing tattoos?
Some of the very best tattoo designs successfully incorporate a
traditional tribal design with a modern one. Striking tribal patterns
can often be used to frame existing tattoos, but the success of this
will always depend on the style of the original tattoo. Such a
technique tends to work better when reworking a modern style of tattoo
with a tribal design, but you should always be careful to strike the
right balance between both drawings and not let one overpower the
Tribal designs can also be used to “cover up” a tattoo you no longer
like. Many tribal tattoo styles are very striking, and when drawn on
top of a faded and nondescript tattoo, they can successfully
obliterate the original tattoo.
Where is the best place to have a tribal design?
Monochromatic tribal designs based on lines, curves and geometric
patterns can look great on all areas of the body, but bracelet style
tribal tattoos look especially effective on the upper arm or around
the wrist or ankle. The size of the tattoo design you choose will
always be down to personal preference, but tribal designs also look
very effective when drawn across large areas of the back. Complex
patterns and striking designs are an intrinsic part of the tribal
style of tattoo and the more elaborate the tattoo, the more beautiful
it will be.
But there are also plenty of smaller tribal tattoo designs you can
choose if you prefer a more discrete tattoo as opposed to a large and
very visible tattoo. Tribal sun tattoos are a very popular design
featuring the ancient symbol of the sun. Drawn large or small, this
style of tribal tattoo can be inked in a multitude of locations on the
body from the shoulder to the small of the back, and it will always
Tribal cross designs are a popular choice for those seeking a striking
tattoo design. Cross designs can be drawn large across the back or
small on an upper arm or the nape of the neck. Tribal cross designs
are usually very decorative and can easily be drawn as part of a much
larger and more complex design. A typical example of a tribal cross
designs would be a Celtic tribal cross tattoo. Celtic tribal cross
tattoos are based on pagan Celtic druid symbols. Representing the tree
of life and the sun, these tattoos are also referred to as a sun cross
and often feature knots and spirals as part of the design. They are
popular with men and women, but for a more feminine touch, leaves and
flowers can be woven into the design.
Another type of popular tribal tattoo is the tribal dragon design.
Often seen in Eastern cultures, tribal dragon tattoos have a large
number of symbolic meanings from “protector” to “creator”. Many people
choose a tribal dragon design as a feature tattoo for their back and
the ubiquitous Chinese dragon tattoo is always a popular choice for
those looking for a complex and striking design guaranteed to stand
out from the crowd.