J Mclean © www.mymatemuds.com 2013
The history of tattooing goes back to beyond any well documented culture or society. In the study of tattooing it has been discovered that for as long as man has lived, people have made markings on their bodies for various reasons. People have to gone to extremes to make these marks permanent by using various instruments and substances to achieve a permanent type of body modification.
While in ancient times any type of body used to depict a certain meaning or cause, usually to display respect to their ancestors or tribal traditions and others used them to scare their enemies in battle, talk psychological warfare this is quite extreme but the same has since evolved to beautiful body art with state of art equipment to design such.
Tattooing is as old as cave paintings with the oldest record kept by Otzi the Iceman from around 3300BC. The discovery of this mummy makes the history of tattooing very broad. This is an ice age guy (‘tattoo collector’) whose body was discovered on the border between Austria and Italy in 1990. He has a record fifty-seven tattoos in total including a cross tattooed on the inside of his left knee.
The history of tattooing does not end with Otzi. Many more tattooed mummies have been found all around the world. Another classic tattoo mummy is Apo Anno, now a famous 12th century mighty hunter and warrior of Benguet. While people pass by his cave these days they have to make an offering to Apo Anno like coins, tobacco and wine to encourage good weather. Other tattooed mummies have been found in West China.
The history of tattooing doesn’t only rely on discovery of mummies. To this day some communities all around the world still practice some of tattooing begging the questions how far back does tattooing history go and how many people practiced it. In a close study on the history of tattooing it has been discovered that tattooing is an ancient method of communication in some societies while in others it was just like wearing an ornament.
China has a vast history of tattooing with this type of body modification being popular among many of its ethnic minorities since any of their documented time. However the great Chinese community, the Han Chinese associated tattoos with barbarians, criminals and bandits. They often tattooed the Chinese character ‘prisoner’ on any convicted slave’s face. In general any form of damaging the body, tattoos or piercing's except a woman’s ear were totally unacceptable to this community.
Along with all other cultures that share a history of tattooing the Filipinos cannot be left out. Tattooing being a part of their tribal life long before the Hispanic colonisation and when the Spaniards first landed on their islands they were met by people full of tattoos and hence called the islands ‘Islas De Los Pintados’ meaning ‘The Islands of the Painted Ones’.
For the Filipinos tattooing depicts more than just art. It is a tribal form of accomplishment and is also a sign of rank and power in the community. Other communities also believed that some tattoos had magical qualities. In their history of tattooing one could attain a tattoo by accomplishing a task while others were obtained as a rite of passage. Their women too acquired tattoos but only as a form of beauty.
The history of tattooing Japan is somewhat a twist. In earlier dynasties tattooing was for spiritual and decorative purposes. Figurines recovered from tombs depicted a history of tattooing on living individuals who symbolically accompanied the dead on their journey in to the unknown hence their tattoos related to a religious or magical significance.
In later dynasties tattooing was only practiced by the ‘Ukio-e’, usually casual labourers and prostitutes indicating their status in society. Around the same time it was introduced as a form punishment for criminals were branded in visible areas replacing the ancient removal of ears and nose. The art of tattooing was however abolished altogether by the Meiji Government. The people with tattoos were left with no way of fitting back in to society since tattooing was now seen as barbaric and criminal. It forced this group of people-Ronin in to criminal activities which ultimately led to the formation of the Yakuza. Tattoos in Japan are now synonymous with this criminal organisation.
In the history of tattooing the Samoans are probably the greatest contributors to the modern age tattooing beginning with the word tattoo which is believed to have originated from the Samoan word ‘tatau’. The Europeans who first docked in to the Samoan Islands thought that the natives wore artfully woven silks tights and knee breeches since they had not gone close enough to realise the natives did not wear silk tights but instead their legs were covered in tattoos. A crew member described them as well behaved, courteous and friendly. He also said they did not paint their bodies like the rest of the communities on the other islands but wore skilfully woven silk leggings.
In traditional Samoa the tradition of applying tattoos by hand has remained unbroken for over 2000 years. The skill is often passed as a craft in the family usually from father to son and each tufuga (tattoo artist) learning the craft from serving as his father’s apprentice for many years.
Although there are no tattoo mummies to found as evidence of tattooing in ancient Persia their history of tattooing is depicted on statues and stone carvings remains from Achaemenid Empire. They show existence of tattooing, body painting and piercing on ancient Persian gods, kings and even soldiers. There exists a literal document to prove history of tattooing in Persia, it is by Rumi, a famous Persian poet who tells a story about a man who asks to get a lion tattoo but backs out of it after experiencing pain coming out of the tattoo needle.
In general, the history of tattooing dates back to times well out of any documented history with people all over the world having different ways of creating this art. In Africa, they did not use dye on their tattoos, they would make the body marks by carving the skin. It involved lifting the skin and making cuts on the flesh. They would then rub special sands and ashes to leave a permanent inflammation on the skin long after the scar healed.
In Samoa the process used a number of tools the ‘autapulu’ was among their first tattoo combs used to fill in the large dark areas of the tattoo. ‘Ausogi’aso tele’ was a smaller comb used for making thick lines, ‘Ausogi’aso laititi’ was the comb for tattooing thin lines while the ‘aumogo’ was the comb used for tattooing small marks and finally ‘sausau’ was what was used to strike the combs, it resembles a mallet of sorts.
Such were the methods used all over the world but which have since evolved in to what today are state of the art tattoo parlours. Over the last 50 to 100 years it has become more acceptable for anyone in society to acquire a tattoo. Tattoos in the modern age are still however used to affiliate persons with certain thing like certain street gangs or as a badge of honour in prison so that other convicts respect the individual. In most places the tattoos are a welcome type of body painting and decoration and only thought as an art.
We hope you have learnt something from our description of the history of tattooing.
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