The popularity of tribal tattoos is increasing since they’ve been introduced in the tattoo scene in 1990s. Despite their popularity, only a few people know much about tribal tattoo designs and meanings. It’s not because they don’t like learning about them but because there are so many of them to learn.
There are several ancient and tribal groups that use tattoos as part of their culture. Some of them symbolize life experiences while others signify spiritual protection. Most tribal tattoos are associated with those living on islands. Polynesian, Pacific and Samoan are three of the many ethnicities known for their tribal tattoos.
- 1 Tribal Tattoo Designs and Meanings
- 2 Other Examples of Tribal Tattoo Designs
- 2.1 7. 3D Tribal Tattoo
- 2.2 8. Long Abstract Tattoo
- 2.3 9. Simple Manly Tribal Tattoo
- 2.4 10. Tribal Tattoo For Arm And Shoulder
- 2.5 11. Horse Head Tribal Tattoos
- 2.6 12. Tribal Salamander
- 2.7 13. Tribal Eagle Tattoo Design
- 2.8 14. Tribal Butterflies And Hearts
- 2.9 15. Tribal Skull Tattoo
- 2.10 16. Tribal Dragon Tattoo
- 2.11 17. Tribal Gems Tattoo
Tribal Tattoo Designs and Meanings
Polynesian tattoos exist since 2,000 years ago. But in 18th century, tattooing was banned by the Old Testament. However, in the early 1980s, the tradition got a new beginning. The role of tattoo in Polynesian culture was to deliver information to its owner.
Tattooing is also a traditional way of fetching spiritual power, strength and protection. Polynesians use tattoos as a sign of their position and character. In ancient times, every Polynesian had a tattoo.
The style of their tattoos differs from one island to another. Original styles consist of simple patterns, like straight lines that repeat on the body.
Tiki is a common tattoo design in Polynesian culture. It’s a human-like figure that signifies semi-gods. Wearers considered it as a symbol of protection. Most Polynesian tattoo designs have tiki symbols.
The organs of Tiki are separately drawn and each has its own meaning.
2. Samoan Tattoos
They’re large and very complicated. Both men and women can sport this tribal tattoo. A Samoan tattoo can be about anything. Mostly, however, can be like a book that tells a story about the wearer’s rank, age, society position or a place in life.
One of the most common Samoan tattoos is found on the arm with a sun on its design. Sun is found in every Samoan tattoo. In the Samoan culture, the sun stands for brightness, grandeur and riches, as well as leadership. However, the real meaning will depend on the use of other symbols within a design. The number of rays and the sun’s expression can also determine the real meaning of the tattoo.
Another common Samoan tattoo involves a turtle. In the Samoan culture, turtle symbolizes peace, wellness and longevity. You can also find turtle shells in various Samoan tattoo designs.
Ocean in Samoan tattoo design symbolizes death because Samoans believe that the ocean is a place where people go to after they die. Ocean symbols in Samoan tribal tattoo designs are usually inked on the shoulder blade and a huge part of the upper arm.
Lizards too are found in this tribal tattoo design. In Samoan culture, lizards are considered as a form of god by the people. Lizards in tattoo designs usually look like “enata,” which is a symbol of a man who can talk to gods and watch the world hidden from the human eyes.
Some tribal tattoo designs with lizards are uniquely drawn. They really depend on the tattoo masters on how they embed the symbol of a lizard in the overall design.
Marquesan cross is also common in various Samoan tattoo designs. The cross is usually a symbol of balance between various elements. Unfortunately, its origin is still unknown. However, archeological study showed that the cross has a connection to the turtle shell. The Marquesan cross is sometimes confused with lizard symbols. One of the ways to distinguish them is to find out whether or not the design has a tail and a head.
3. Maori Moko
Moko is a tribal tattoo in Maori tribe in New Zeland. Each tattoo is unique and it usually indicates social status, the wearer’s rank, job and achievements. The tattoo is usually found on the face. The purpose of tattooing their faces is considered sacred.
The design also portrays the wearer’s knowledge and genealogy, as well as social standing.
But tattooing in this tribe declined during the 20th century. In recent years, however, it has been revived and many Maori people are wearing it as an expression of their pride and integrity. For them, it’s more than a fashion statement. It tells who they are and where they came from.
A moko tattoo on the face is considered as an ultimate statement. For these people, the head is the most sacred part of the body. And to wear a tattoo on the face is an undeniable declaration of your integrity.
Women wear moko tattoo on the face but it’s usually worn on the chin. But some do appear on the upper lip, throat and nostrils, as well as forehead. But men who wear a moko tattoo cover their whole face.
4. Haida Tribal Tattoos
Haida is a Native American tribe living on the northwest coast of America. These tribal tattoo designs are usually about woodcarvings and animals. Haida tribal tattoo designs depict creatures, like beavers, bears, and fish. For the Haida, tattoos are a way for them to express their lineage, social unit and moiety.
People belonging to this tribe believed that if you have a Haida tattoo, you’re taking some of the strength of the animal found in your Haida tattoo design. That said, the style indicates masculinity and force. The designs of Haida tattoos are also influenced by the astrology of Native American.
5. Borneo Tattoos
Borneo is an island that you can find in the Southeast Asia. It’s divided into political boundaries, like Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. People in this island considered tattooing as a connection of their social life.
A hand tattoo is considered as a symbol of a status in life. It also acts as a way to illuminate darkness once the soul wanders while searching for the River of the Dead.
Today, a few women of this tribe wear a tattoo. However, the practice is still pretty common amongst men. For men, they put a tattoo as an ornament with no special significance.
One of the peculiar designs of Borneo tattoo designs involve a durian rosette tattoo found on the shoulders.
6. Tahitian Tattoos
They’re typically given to members of the upper class. Tahitian tattoo designs are usually an indication to mark passage through life. Although, the designs are inked all over the body, they are rarely found on the face.
These days, Tribal tattoo designs are purely for decorative purposes. Their popularity has spread. Before, you’d only see them on man’s skin. Today, women are now getting tribal tattoo designs.
Tribal art can be drawn on various parts of the body. You can decorate them to your ankles, lower back or your upper shoulders. This type of art is eye-catching, especially if you combine different tribal tattoo designs.
Tribal tattoo designs are usually black. However, other colors can be added to the style. The choice is really up to you. With several options to choose from, it’s best to make a thorough research about all the tribal tattoo designs and their meanings.
It’s best to find a design that speaks to you. When you conduct a research about the design you wish, you’ll find different meanings of one design. Tattoo symbols can add interest and depth to the overall design.
Other Examples of Tribal Tattoo Designs
7. 3D Tribal Tattoo
This beautiful and unique 3D like tribal tattoo looks like it comes to life. This design is great on the leg and thigh. It would surely catch everyone’s attention.
8. Long Abstract Tattoo
This is a great long abstract tattoo pattern on the woman’s leg. I would also be made and look beautiful on the arm.
9. Simple Manly Tribal Tattoo
Simple, yet manly tribal tattoo for the upper or lower back.
10. Tribal Tattoo For Arm And Shoulder
Nice masculine tattoo with great detail and attention with added color.
11. Horse Head Tribal Tattoos
Horses have become the focal point of the plains tribes. Horses were valuable helpers that made everything easier, from hunting buffalo to moving villages. Even now, it’s hard to imagine Native American culture without the horse.
In different cultures, the horse has many meanings. Usually, a horse tattoo wearer is high spirited and free willed soul who will not be easily tamed.
Other meanings that horse tattoos have: freedom, grace, strength, nobility, bravery, power, fertility and rebirth, intelligence, beauty, companionship and death (black horses).
Here are simple black and white horse head tribal tattoos which are great for men or women.
12. Tribal Salamander
Tattoos of lizards are a great way to show any number of personality traits. A Salamander tattoo shows your passionate nature and the ability to manage in difficult situations. The Lizard embodies: perception, adaptability, flexibility, cunning, speed and agility, abundance, and death and resurrection.
Lizard Tattoos are best placed when the animal is shown curled and contorted into shapes, that way, the look of the design is highlighted. The most attractive tattoos are placed on the body that gives an illusion of a moving tattoo.
Salamanders have a long history with humanity and they have been associated with elemental fire.
This is an interesting combination of 6 salamanders. Great tattoo sketch for men or women.
13. Tribal Eagle Tattoo Design
Eagle is another popular tribal tattoo design. This is simple, yet powerful design that is a symbol of spirituality, wisdom, and power.
The Tribal Eagle tattoos have deep spiritual significance and they represent the strong ties of the clan. The Eagle in these tribal tattoos has a powerful presence which is used to inspire the design with components of power and strength.
In ancient Greece, the eagles have been seen as the embodiment of masculine virility and strength. Zeus, the Greek god was associated with the Eagle and the animal itself was usually depicted carrying the ultimate symbol of Zeus, a lightning bolt.
Native Americans loved this bird as a symbol of spiritual power. The eagle was often called ‘the great Messenger of the Gods’. Native tribes believed that the Eagle was the earthly incarnation of the Thunderbird spirit, representing thunder and lightning.
14. Tribal Butterflies And Hearts
Butterflies are symbols of love and spirituality. The Greek word for butterfly is psyche (after the goddess Psyche). Psyche was the goddess of the soul and is often depicted with the wings of a butterfly.
Butterflies have many meanings that include: love, transformation, spirituality and the soul, resurrection and rebirth, grace, femininity, and a connection of the nature and natural elements.
The most popular place for butterflies or hearts are being the upper arm, shoulder, back, foot, and lower back.
Heart tattoos represent the symbol of love, passion and adoration. However, heart tattoos mean something different to each person. The heart is one of the tattoo designs that allows you to be creative, you can make your own design and meaning since they represents many different things in the eyes of the beholder.
Some of the areas where the heart tattoos are popular are on the forearm, wrist, hip and foot.
Here is a wonderful example of a black and white tribal butterflies and hearts. These small and simple hearts and butterflies are suitable for both men and women.
15. Tribal Skull Tattoo
Skull tattoos can have many different meanings. However, in most cultures, the skull tattoo is a symbol of death. Skull tattoos may also mean that the wearer has no fear of death or it may mean that the wearer has accepted their own mortality and lives the remaining life to its fullest. The skull tattoo may also show the death of a friend or a family member.
Skull tattoo designs are pretty versatile and can be worn on different parts of the body. Skull designs look great on their own or a part of another design.
16. Tribal Dragon Tattoo
The dragon has been portrayed in mythology, legends, and folklore for centuries. In Asian cultures, people believed that dragons were noble creatures. They believed that dragons held distinct honors and special powers. However, in European countries, the dragon was believed to be an evil and dangerous creature. They feared that the dragons had dark thoughts and actions .
A tribal dragon design may be done in many different ways. Some designs may add wings to the dragon or portray flames and smoke around the dragon.
Most tribal dragon tattoo designs are done with blank ink. However, you may add color and make it unique to you. The options are endless.
17. Tribal Gems Tattoo
You may also like our Samoan tattoo designs and meanings.