What is a Tribal Tattoo? Is it the same as a Polynesian Tattoo?

The word ‘TRIBAL’ covers a wide range with many meanings and interpretations. I am from the South Pacific, the island regions where ‘tribal tattoos’ emerged so I know of which I speak. I feel you can call Polynesian culture a ‘tribal’ culture with a strong influence on the history of tattoos. Read on and I’ll explain.

The Polynesian Tattoo stems way back from the earliest days of the Polynesian, Maori and Samoan cultures in the South Pacific. The word ‘Tattoo’ in fact stems from ‘Tatau’, ‘Ta Moko’, ‘Pe”a’ , ‘Tatatau’, words in the languages of the Polynesian tribal cultures; Hawaiian, Tahititian, and Marquesian to name a few.

Tattoos have deeply significant meanings; from community rankings to area belongings and descriptions. From the shapes of the Tattoo, to the positioning placed on the body, to the combination of certain shapes, all of these factors combine to complete a story. The Polynesian people were and still are tremendous story tellers. They were great visionaries, ocean navigators, fearsome warriors, and because our culture is still going strong – survivors!The Polynesian Tattoo identifies who you are, what area you were bought up in and what village you came from. From your status in your local area to your accomplishments to who your ancestors were, your tattoo indicates in part your rank in society or your village.

How do you rank as an up and coming warrior? There’s a tattoo for that! What weapons have you been taught? There’s a tat for that too!

For example in today’s world, how can you tell if a person is a black belt or a red belt in Karate? You just look at their cloth belt. But this was deeper. This was tattoo and there was no going down the store to purchase a black belt. When you met with a Maori warrior – one look at his ‘tatts’ and you would know his village, his family, his friends just by quickly interpreting his ink. It’s so different these days. You meet someone now and you have to speak with them to get to know them at all. The famous saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know” comes to mind here.

Tattoo had so many meanings and stories. If you are privileged enough to meet a Samoan male with a Pe’a you will notice some tattoos can speak of his history going back to his families first canoe. And if you imagine laying there for many days having your skin tapped into with elders chanting and singing around you in support. There is no way that you will ever forget this experience as the receiver of this tattoo. This is one way your family history can make an ‘impression’ on you! Literally! But the pain, the recovery are all worth it once you obtain the honor to represent your family, your village, your tribe.

Imagine your face with a large tribal tattoo? Not only the pain but the immediate identification by people as you walked down the street or went fishing in the area. This was not just a name tag. This was your identification of who you are, your people, your community. The Maori Ta Moko of New Zealand speaks many things when looking at it,

Pain, history , rank, identification. Did I say PAIN? Again, it may have been worth it because it gave you status.

So the meaning of the Tribal Tattoo is so much more than just a cool look. It is the way you announce who you are and from whence you came. It should therefore be treated with great meaning, honor and respect.