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The History of Tattoos

The newly popular tattoos were favored mostly by working-class Europeans, but they enjoyed a brief spurt of popularity among upper-class men and women in England in the late 19th century. (Invisibleink) Tattoos have meant different things to different cultures: For some peoples, a tattoo, promised invincibility in war, some protected against sickness or misfortune, some offered safe passage into heaven or the after world, and some furnished a visible badge of rank or of membership in a certain group. Tattoos have been used to mark prisoners and to brand society’s outcasts.

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They can serve as a way of advertising one’s emotional and or philosophical attachments. Most commonly, however, tattoos have been and still are used for decoration. (Invisibleink) Ancient Egypt- Written records, physical remains, and works of art relevant to Egyptian tattoo have virtually been ignored by earlier Egyptologists influenced by prevailing social attitudes toward the medium. Today however, we know that there have been bodies recovered dating to as early XI dynasty exhibiting the art form of tattoo. In 1891, archaeologists discovered Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor, in Thebes who lived between 2160 BC and 1994 BC.

This female mummy displayed several lines and dots tattooed about her body, grouping dots and or dashes were aligned into abstract geometric patterns. This art form was restricted to women and usually these women were associated with ritualistic practice. The Egyptians spread the practice of tattooing throughout the world. The third and fourth dynasties of Egypt introduced it to Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia. By 2,000 BC the art of tattooing had stretched out all the way to Southeast Asia. The Ainu, then brought it with them as they moved to Japan. Invisibleink) Japan- The earliest evidence of tattooing in Japan is found in the form of clay figurines which have faces painted or engraved to represent tattoo marks. The oldest figurines of this kind have been recovered from tombs dated 3,000 BC or older, and many other such figurines have been found in tombs dating from the second and third millennia BC. These figurines served as stand-ins for living individuals who symbolically accompanied the dead on their journey into the unknown, and it is believed that the tattoo marks had religious or magical significance.

The first written record of Japanese tattooing is found in a Chinese dynastic history compiled in 297 AD. The Japanese were interested in the art mostly for its decorative attributes, as opposed to magical ones. The Horis, Japanese tattoo artists, were the undisputed masters. Their use of colors, perspective, and imaginative designs gave the practice a whole new angle. The classic Japanese tattoo is a full body suit. (Invisibleink) Polynesia- In pacific cultures tattooing has a huge historic significance. Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skilful tattooing of the ancient world.

Polynesian peoples believe that a person’s Mana, their spiritual power or life force, is displayed through their tattoo. The vast majority of what we know today about these ancient arts has been passed down through legends, songs, and ritual ceremonies. Elaborate geometrical designs which were often added to, renewed, and embellished throughout the life of the individual until they covered the entire body. (Invisibleink) In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, or ‘tatau’, by hand, has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants, descending from notable families in the proper birth order.

The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the onset of puberty, were elaborate celebrations and were a key part of their ascendance to a leadership role. The permanent marks left by the tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. The mythological origins of Samoan tattooing and the extraordinary cross-cultural history of tatau has been transported to the migrant communities of New Zealand and later found their way into Auckland and the Netherlands. (Invisibleink) The Hawaiian people had their traditional tattoo art, known as ‘kakau’.

It served them not only for ornamentation and distinction, but also to guard their health and spiritual well-being. Intricate patterns, mimicking woven reeds or other natural forms, graced men’s arms, legs, torso and face. Women were generally tattooed on the hand, fingers, wrists and occasionally on the tongue. The arrival of western missionaries caused a decline as tattooing had been discouraged or forbidden by most Christian churches throughout history. (Invisibleink) New Zealand- The Maori of New Zealand had created one of the most impressive cultures of all Polynesia.

Their tattoo, called ‘moko’, reflected their refined artistry – using their woodcarving skills to carve skin. The full-face moko was a mark of distinction, which communicated their status, lines of descent and tribal affiliations. It recalled their wearer’s exploits in war and other great events of their life. Moko was unique in that the face was decorated with intricate spirals that were not only tattooed but also incised into the skin to make scars in the form of parallel ridges and grooves. With the exception of slaves and commoners, all men were tattooed on the face and most were also tattooed on other parts of the body.

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