Beyond The Ink

The tattoo has become something more than just body art. Beyond the ink lies a deep meaning. The majority of a tattoo is not a physical thing, but a deep symbolism or spirituality. Its power comes from a variety of cultures and societies ranging from tribal Africa to Asian dynasties. Tattoos are a physical manifestation of ones devotion to a cause.

MenStylePower. Web. 3 Dec 2010. <>.


Early tattoos have extremely close ties to rituals and religious entities. African tribes used tattoos as a part of a coming of age ritual. When a young tribe member would come of age he would be granted the tattoo of either the warrior or the hunter. These tattoos would have a profound effect on the life of that individual. In African tribes tattoos also had deeply spiritual meanings. A majority of the tribal tattoos were restricted only to the shamans and other spiritual leaders of the tribes. Spiritual leaders often covered most of their bodies in nature-oriented tattoos to show their closeness to the elements. The more skin covered in tattoo the more attuned that individual was with nature.(Palermo, 4)

Though ritual played a large role in the development of the tattoo, the process of receiving the tattoo also added to its meaning. The pain associated with the tattoos developed another level of power. Tattoos eventually came to symbolize courage and strength, as both of these traits were needed to undergo the painful body art. Many of the heavily tattooed tribe members were respected due to the pain they had endured in receiving their tattoos. In the past the process of receiving a tattoo was far more painful and dangerous. Getting a tattoo was the ultimate sign of devotion. If you got a tattoo you were willing to risk your own self-harm for that cause. As this sign of the utmost dedication, they demanded respect.

The permanence of tattoos has had a strong effect of on their symbolism and meaning. They can be used as a reminder the bearer of that tattoo never forgets why he received it. As a result many tribe members would commemorate major events that occurred in their lifetimes. These events ranged from their first hunt to the death of someone close or even major social and cultural changes.

Brady, C. "From Punishment to Expression: A History of Tattoos in Corrections." Corrections Compendium. 18.9 (1993): 1-5. Print.

Palermo, George. "Tattooing and Tattooed Criminals." Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice. 4.1 (2004): 1-25. Print.

Demello, Margo. Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community. Durham,NC: Duke University Press, 2000. Print

Lineberry, Cate. "Tattoos: The Ancient and Mysterious History." Smithsonian 1 Jan. 2007: n. pag. Web. 5 Nov 2010.

Chaplin, Beverly Jane. "Tattoo Narratives: A Generational Study of the Changing Meanings of the Tattoo." Dissertation International. 65.3 (2004): 639-C. Print.