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Tattoo Traditions Around the World

Posted on August 29 2012

Tattoo Traditions Around the World


There are still cultures around the world that treat tattoos with reverence and respect. A far cry from the oftentimes meaningless and sometimes regrettable ink everybody and their grandmother dons these days, tattooing traditions in some Pacific countries date back thousands of years. They can mean everything from social status to age to courage or simply beautification.


On the isles of Samoa, tattoos are no laughing matter. Brave men receive pea, a body suit of intricate geometric bands that span from their thighs to their waist. Today, bottled ink is used with modern tattoo needles, but in ancient times the tufuga ta tatau (tattoo masters) used tools of bone, tusks and shells to place the patterns into the skin. Pigment was made from burnt kukui nuts and the process took years. Great prestige comes with wearing pea, it signifies strength and power. Women also get tattooed with designs called malu, usually more delicate, spanning the space between the tops of their knees and upper thighs.

New Zealand

Maori facial tattoos, or ta moko, have recently made a comeback among young people who are proud of their heritage and wish to represent it. Authentic ta moko are applied with sharpened albatross bone chisels that create the grooved filigree of swirls and ornate facial contours, but today modern tattoo equipment and ink is often used. While young men get their whole faces tattooed, women usually don designs on their lips and chin. The tohunga ta moko, who perform the tattooing, are renowned as exceptionally sacred people among the Maori. In addition to the intricate artwork, they also carry out the rites and rituals that accompany the honor of being tattooed.


In authentic Japanese irezumi, you go big or go home. The word irezumi literally means insert ink, and the practice dates back about 12,000 years. Followers of this tradition end up with full body suits of colorful ink that, save for a narrow strip of naked skin down the center of the torso, cover their upper legs, buttocks, back, shoulders, chest and arms. Completion can take up to five years of regular visits to one of the few great irezumi artists and cost a small fortune. The reward though, is a symbolism packed story on the skin made up of gorgeous dragons, koi, tigers, snakes, cherry blossoms, bamboo, lotuses and ships that represent whole parts of Japanese culture and history.

Japanese Tattoo Traditions


About the Author of “Tattoo Traditions Around the World”:
Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine. An avid tattoo bearer and appreciator, she hopes you find the fascinating history of this unique art form all over the world. With a car rental in New Zealand, Samoa or Japan you can enjoy the freedom of exploring the country thoroughly and at your own pace.

Photo Credits:
“Japanese Tattoo Traditions” – Ludo Kanta via photopin