Tribal tattoos remain among the most popular tattoo choices for people nowadays. The term is rather broad in its coverage, though. Even if we call certain tattoos “tribal”, for instance, they may not actually pertain to an established tribal culture of any sort. Rather, they may draw some inspiration from the traditional tattoo designs and patterns of such cultures. From that base, just about any design can sprout up, so tribal tattoos as enormously varied. Most tribal tattoos do tend to feature characteristics like repetitive design (pattern) elements, bold line motifs, strong black ink usage, and mythical or spiritual symbolism.
Types of Tribal Tattoos
It can be tricky to talk about types of tribal tattoos. As we mentioned earlier, the category of tribal tattoos itself can be quite indefinite. It is only natural that to speak of types within it can be a bit challenging too, then.
Still, there are some basic categories we can use for convenience. The first set we can consider would be one that divides tribal tattoos into the traditional and the modern, for instance.
Traditional Tribal Tattoos
When we speak of traditional tribal tattoos here, we refer to those that use only original, authentic tribal designs. These are fairly rare as most tribal tattoos these days have some modern element. Even so, traditional tribal tattoos still do exist to this day. There are still tribes in Africa who use the old tribal designs that have been passed down through generations of their people, for instance. The same goes for certain members of the Maori of New Zealand.
The Maori people’s Ta Moko designs are especially well known examples of traditional tribal tattoos, and for good reason. The word “tattoo” even derives for the Maori word for these bodily adornments, after all. The Ta Moko also show many of the classic purposes for adopting tribal tattoos in traditional settings. They display the tattooed person’s social status, for instance, besides also serving as an indicator of his spiritual or inner strength.
Modern Tribal Tattoos
Modern tribal tattoos very often take some element of classic tribal tattoo design and augment it in various ways. The result is often an original as well as cross-cultural design—a sort of portmanteau of symbols that can be very appealing.
Now even with this category of tribal tattoos, we can speak of further subtypes. We might, for instance, talk of tribal tattoo types based on the primary or most prominent source of inspiration for them. Hence you might speak of Maori tribal tattoos, Celtic tribal tattoos, Aztec tribal tattoos, and even Wiccan tribal tattoos.
Meaning of Tribal Tattoos
Tribal tattoo meanings depend not just on the design but also on the culture being referenced. One has to remember that different images or symbols may stand for very different things across cultures, after all. As such, if you want to learn the meaning of a specific tribal tattoo, you should ask the designer or owner to truly discover more about it.
The Ta Moko tattoos of the Maori, mentioned earlier, make for a great example of tribal tattoo meanings. These tattoos covered a person’s whole face and were very intricately designed. Indeed, they were even unique to each individual, and this ties into their significance or meaning, as it were.
The Maori had a belief that dead people became translucent—that light passed straight through them. This would make the dead impossible to identify. People with Ta Moko tattoos, however, would have a unique design incised as well as inked into their faces. The design would stand against the light by contrast and render them recognizable to friends and family even after death.
Tribal tattoos can also have spiritual meanings. Some traditional tribal tattoos were intended to act as ritual protection against demons or evil forces in some cultures, for instance. Of course, these sorts of significations have not all carried over to modern tribal tattoo culture. There are even some modern tribal tattoos that are more or less void of deeper meaning for both the owner and designer: they are simply there for ornamentation, pure and simple.
Ideal Placement of Tribal Tattoos
Tribal tattoo placement can be highly variable too. Most traditional tribal tattoos were intended to be highly visible, which explains the usual placements on the face, neck, and hands. If you are someone seeking a modern tribal tattoo, however, you probably have considerations that make that unwise. For example, you might not want to get a tattoo on your face considering societal opinions and professional restrictions on it. While a facial Ta Moko tattoo indicated high social status among the traditional Maori tribes, after all, it does not really signify the same in contemporary society.
If you want a very discreet tribal tattoo, you may consider places that are easily hidden on your body. This may include areas normally covered up by your clothes or hair. You might consider having tribal tattoos done on your feet or ankles, for example. The same goes for tattoos placed around areas typically hidden by your shirt.
Keep in mind, however, that having something tattooed on an easily hidden place can sometimes mean a painful tattoo session. Consider the rib or flank tattoo, for instance. It might be easy to hide with a top, but it is also one of the most painful tattoo locations. Before you decide to get a tribal tattoo here, think carefully about just how much pain you can tolerate.
Most tribal tattoos—even the modern ones—are really designed to be shown off, though. As such, you may want to opt for a place a little more visible than that, at least if your lifestyle and career can afford it. Think about getting a tribal pattern band around your leg, for instance, or an elaborate tattoo on your shoulder. A very popular place for tribal tattoos is actually the forearm, since they are so often used in traditional tribal culture as tattooing places as well.
Tribal Tattoos Preparation Tips
Preparing for a tribal tattoo is not that different from preparing for any other tattoo. The first thing to do is always to practice the greatest circumspection in your choice of tattooist. In a very real sense, 50% of your preparation for the tattoo should go into finding the right artist. This is the person who shall be inking a potentially permanent design onto your skin, after all. He will make a lasting change to your body, which is why you want him to be as reliable and trustworthy as they get.
You want a tattoo artist who works in a clean environment. This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing one, equal only to the amount of skill he has. The cleaner the tattoo shop and tattooing tools, the lower the likelihood of your health being jeopardized by a nasty infection following the tattooing session. How do you know the artist is a clean worker? Well, you can try the following indicators:
- Does the shop itself look clean? Generally speaking, a dirty tattoo parlor will mean dirty equipment. Steer clear of it if so.
- Do they have an autoclave for needle sterilization? Ask to see it and ask how often they use it.
- Does the artist work with gloved hands? He should always be gloved when working on a tattoo.
- Does the artist open needle packages right in front of you? He should, as the needles should be new and in sealed packets prior to usage.
Do not be afraid to solicit reviews of the artist you are considering. Ask others who might have had work done by him what their experiences were like. You might even ask to see their tattoos—most people are not shy about showing these off, anyway. Ask about their level of satisfaction with the artist’s work and whether or not they experienced complications.
Once you are satisfied that you have selected the right craftsman to do the job of getting you inked, you can prepare your mind and body for it. First of all, be sure that you are in peak condition when you get your tattoo. If you are unlucky enough to catch a cold the day before your appointment, postpone it: you can always reschedule, anyway. It makes more sense to do that than to risk your health by persisting in subjecting yourself to the tattoo gun when your immune system is already trying to beat off one intruder.
Make sure too that you do not show up at the tattoo parlor hung over from your last binge. Hangovers actually make tattoo pain worse, which means the artist is less likely to get work done. Women should try to avoid getting appointments when they have their periods, as that time of the month usually sees them being more sensitive than usual.
Average Service Cost & Standard Prices for Getting Tribal Tattoos
The cost of a custom tribal tattoo can be as low as $50. This price is usually just the minimum charge for most tattoo artists, though. If you want something the size of your palm, for example, you may be looking at something worth several hundred dollars.
In general, the larger the design is, the more a tattoo artist will charge you for it. Most artists will also be willing to quote a per-hour fee instead of a definite price for the finished product. Larger designs tend to get per-hour fees. Smaller ones, since they tend to be finished faster, get definite prices.
It may be tempting to skimp in this area, but try to avoid it. Skimping on tattoo prices usually leads to disastrous tattoos, if not illness thanks to inadequate tool sterilization. The fact is that the best tattoos will cost a lot because they require the time and skill of a trained artist, and you are obliged to pay such artisans for their time.
Maintenance Tips After Getting Tribal Tattoos
After you get a tribal tattoo, you have to take care of it to facilitate healing. Tattooing is basically a process that injures the skin, so it is wise to treat the tattooed area with great care for a few days. What is most important is ensuring that no infection sets in. An infection can lead to the loss of a limb or, in the worst cases, of a life. As such, do not take infected tattoo cases lightly and head to the hospital if any sign of septicity appears. You might even want to have your personal physician help you monitor it by getting a checkup.
Most tattoo artists prefer that their clients bandage the tattooed area for some days afterwards. Ask your tattoo artist about his recommendations for care and if your tattoo package comes with any aftercare products. Some tattoo parlors actually include kits of antibacterial soap and gauze with their packages.
Keep the tattoo as clean as you can. When washing it, do it gently and try to avoid abrading the skin with any rough movement or texture. This is why you should only pat the area dry after a fresh tattoo, as opposed to rubbing it: a rub might irritate the tiny wounds and could even work in bacteria.
Some people like to stay on the safe side and pop an antibiotic pill after getting a tattoo done. However, this is not necessarily required if your tattoo was done in a clean parlor that observes safety protocol.
To summarize, tribal tattoos are eye-catching, handsome options for people seeking tattoos today. Their references to the past and to traditional cultures make them especially attractive for those with a connection to said cultures—think of those who may have Native American blood in their lineage, for instance, who seek tattoos with Native American references. This does not mean you cannot get such tattoos without such a link, of course, as many people do get modern tribal tattoo designs today. Classic tribal motifs are now very often used in tattoo art even without deeper meaning. What about you? Do you know of any tribal motifs or designs that you think could make for appealing tattoos nowadays?