10 Things You Didn’t Know About African Tribal Tattoos

From time immemorial, people have always been fascinated about tattoos. There are very many types of African tribal tattoos in the modern world of today. However, of all the tattoos that there are, the African tribal tattoos have in the recent past been preferred by many modern circles. They are very common in the western culture. But overlooking their obvious beauty and attraction, do you really know anything about them? Do you understand the meaning behind them? Possibly not. The following are some of the things that you did not know about most African tribal tattoos that you see.

Origin and Purpose of the African Tribal Tattoos

African Tribal Tattoos

First and foremost, you should know that these tattoos have African origins and as such, many of their meanings are derived from the African culture. Given the superstitious nature of the traditional Africans, this is somewhat expected. Tattoos have been existence for a very long time. Proof of the very first African tattoo was found in the year 1994 BC and was found on a mummy. Imagine that. However, it is estimated that there are other tattoos that date back to the 2000 BC. There are images that show Egyptian Priestesses having tattooed arms.


Some of the African tribal tattoos were drawn to provide the wearer with protection against all sorts of harm throughout their life. It was some sort of protective mark that is accompanied by powers connecting the tattoo to the wearer. The symbolism of the images protects them throughout their lives.

While in the modern society that we live in today, the tribal tattoos are merely for decoration and have no value, this is not the case for some very traditionally minded people who wear it. For them, the art helps them to take on a supernatural state and be able to overcome evil. They even gave it the term scarification which means that the art provides a way for the wearer to be more than just human – supernatural.


What criteria do you normally use to pick a tribal tattoo at the tattoo parlor? You probably pick out one because you saw it on someone or just because it appeals to your eyes right? Well, tattooing and scarification in the African culture normally made use of symbols that reflected the character of the wearer. It was normally to prove that one was brave and courageous, virtues that one needs to possess in order to go through the painful application of the art.

See Also: Top 10 Most Famous African Tribes


African Tribal Tattoos

You are light-skinned, so you probably have never thought of how dark-skinned people have their tattoos done given that the black ink would not show on their dark skin. Well, regardless of whether you were curious or not, you should know that there is a type of body art that Africans with very dark skin usually have done. The art is called a cicatrisation, where a small opening on the skin is created and a designed wound formed. Ash is then rubbed on the wound so that it would heal fast and the result is a scar that is permanent and raised.

In modern-day, every person in a community can have a tattoo when and where they please. In addition, they can have any type of tattoo regardless of the age and the position one holds in the society. Well, things are not the same with many traditional cultures who take a lot of pride in their tribal art. The art differs depending on your rank in the society. The higher your rank, the more elaborate and complicated your tattoo will be. As such, many start with very basic tribal tattoos and as they rise through the ranks, symbols are added to their tattoos to match with their ranks. The chiefs usually have the most intricate designs. The women in some tribes and cultures usually have theirs on their lips and their chins.


African Tribal Tattoos

Contrary to many modernized parts of the world where getting a tattoo is a very casual process, many African tribes usually have a very strong and firm belief in what they refer to as their tattoo gods. As such, if you are in this tribe you would have to pray first to the tattoo gods and ask for protection during the tattoo drawing process as well as the healing which comes after. They also pray to ensure that the tattoos look striking and attractive.

Right of Passage

There are very many forms in which different cultures display the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood. Some use circumcision and others, probably the cool’ tribes used tattoos as their rites of passage. The pain of having the African tribal tattoos etched on your body was used to see if you can persevere or if you are too fragile. Girls who could not persevere the tattooing process were bound to a lifetime of being single as she would possibly not be able to go through childbirth, a pain that is far much greater. Men who could not go through with it were labelled cowards and were not allowed to go hunting with the rest of the men. While this may not sound like a very serious matter, it was taken seriously back then as everyone wanted to fit in with the tribe and not be some sort of outcast.

See Also: Everything You Must Know About African Masks

Other Tribal Tattoos

The Polynesian tribal tattoos, thought to be from the land of Samoa are thought to be the pioneers of the tattoos that we have in modern-day times. An explorer of the seas, James Cook, landed in these lands and upon coming back to England back in the 1970’s, he and his men were spotted with tribal tattoos which are very similar to the popular neo-tribal designs that are available today. These tattoos were inked on the arms, upper arms and on the chest of the sailors.

African Tribal Tattoos

African Tribal Tattoos as Ornament of Beauty

Back in the olden days, there was not much talk of makeups or ornaments. As a matter of fact, many tribes used tattoos as a form of ornament to attract the members of the opposite sex. There were different designs drawn on different parts of the body. And believe it or not, this worked for the ladies back then as they got husbands with the beauty of their tattoos. Weird right?


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