Tribal tattoos were all the rage in the 1990s and remained so into the early 2000s, as with any trend, it led to overuse of the term and a blur in the origin of the artwork. People flocked to tattoo shops all over the country wanting tribal body art without so much as a thought to the symbolism of the piece they were about to have permanently applied to their bodies.
The word “tribal” has a different connotation for different people, largely based on their geographic location. For example, in the Southwest United States, it may bring to mind stereotypical notions of Native Americans living in teepees and hunting buffalo In other parts of the world, it may make someone think of mysterious peoples living in the jungles of the Congo or the African Bush. The art of tattooing has been practiced for centuries in cultures all over the world, so it’s impossible to narrow it to a single group of people.
The very same word, for the purpose of the tattoo industry, is a bit misleading. In the context of tribal tattoos, it simply means a tattoo in a style inspired by Polynesian body art. I guess if you happen to be a Pacific Islander, then your mental image of tribal tattoos is probably the closest to correct.
The word may give some the impression that the art is somehow more meaningful or closer to the roots of tattooing, when the truth is no one is 100 percent sure what the origin is. The fact that tribal tattoos are always solid black makes some people think it is a more pure and undiluted form of the art.
Many people have already had this revelation and have accepted the tribal tattoo for what it really is: still a really sweet looking tat. Tribals.com is a comprehensive Web site that’s completely embraced the idea. It has all kinds of links, and tons of ideas to inspire your new tribal body art. The thumbnails are divided up into easy to use categories like “tribal butterflies,” “tribal religious symbols,” “tribal lettering,” “tribal dragon,” “tribal celestial designs” and of course, tribal renditions of the ever popular upper and lower back tattoos.
It’s seriously doubtful that the body art industry is deliberately trying to trick anybody with this misguided term, but maybe they should consider renaming the trend as a service to the public. Maybe something like “Polynesianesq,” would be better, or “shadow,” in reference to its typically solid black coloring. “Faux tribal” would certainly be more accurate.
Most think the design has some sort of mysterious, deep meaning, when the truth is the popular form of tribal tattooing usually has no symbolic meaning other than the sentimental value placed on it by the wearer. Hopefully you’ve done your research well before you get into the artists chair. He may offer some guidance, but it’s not his responsibility to tell you what kind of tattoo you want.
Don’t be disappointed in your tribal art. If you feel you’ve chosen you design in error, just think back to what attracted you to it in the first place. Was in the unique flow of the shape or the intensity of the solid blackness? All those things are still there and permanently on your body for better or worse. Don’t waste time regretting your decision on a mere technicality. The point is, if you like it and it means something to you, then wear it with pride. When people ask you what your tribal tat stands for, just tell them how it’s symbolic to you. Maybe you got it to memorialize a loved one, or mark a major event in your life. That’s usually what they want to know anyway. Just love your tattoo for what it is.