For the month of November we are trying to have a bit more focus on native artwork and tattooing. That being said it might be time to have the talk about ‘tribal’ tattoos. When people hear the word tribal in association with tattoos they think of those black-work design pieces; some original and beautiful weaving in and out of themselves, some a simple spiky armband or Kanji symbol, but we aren’t talking about any of these. We wanted to talk about truly tribal tattoos, whether derived from Polynesian traditions or those of the America Great Plains Natives and every place and culture in between.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman of Creek decent and asked him about his feelings on cultural tattoo traditions. I wondered if it would be appropriate for a person who admired and respected another culture’s traditions to get their tattoos. He was very friendly as he firmly told me how and why that was an unacceptable practice. The trouble stems from a sense of irreverence for the traditions and ceremonies of these people’s cultures, he then put it in terms that I and many others could easily understand. The markings these groups create are parts of various rites of passage within their respective cultures, whether you have to earn the tattoo or the right to perform the ritual the bottom line is it has to be earned. He then related it to our own military, saying that if you saw anyone proudly sporting standard issue military equipment without ever having served it would be offense not only to service men and women but many civilians as well. So there we have it, granted other men and women with tribal ancestry may feel differently, this seems like a good representation of how I would feel about it if I had the background. It does give rise to an interesting new question though; what if we could earn it? Once it was not unheard of for a man or woman with no tribal connections to be adopted into a tribe and given full access to all their lore, ceremonies, and traditions following some proof of spiritual kinship. In the past individuals may have committed acts of great bravery or empathy to earn a place within a tribe. So if you love and want a Sioux tattoo or Samoan tattau how much more amazing and respectful would it be to get one of their works from them after earning the right to it?