THE HISTORY OF TATTOO IS HARD TO RECOUNT EVENTHOUGH IT’S AN ANCESTRAL PRACTICE WE CAN’T PLACE IT’S ORIGIN.
The word “tattoo” comes directly from the pacific islands that Bougainville called (at tahiti in 1768) the new cyther…paradise on earth. The tatau, spiritual practice, marked the skin of almost all the peoples. The settlers sent their missionaries to tahiti to ban those tribal practicies, like tattoo. And so they erased a thousand-years-old past where origins where in south-east asia. Still nowadays we can find a tattoo tradition in many asians ethnies. So did tattoo born in asia to join the west in the explorers ships of the XVIIIth century? NO!
According to Darwin no societies escaped tattoo, a lots of archeological and anthropological evidencies prove it. All over the planet since de beginning of times men get tattooed. Sometimes thos inscriptions was used as a therapy, sometimes they was a testimony of someone’s prestige or it’s geographical origin. Often linked to some passage rituals tattoo symbolizes courage, and the steps of life. Magical it protects like an amulet. Adopted by sailors and prostitues of the XVIIIth century and then by western prisoners and bikers of the XXth century it will be considered as mark of decadence. In the past tattoo represented the fundamental belonging to a society, it’s meaning have sink to be a typical anti-social attribut. A strange destiny for a universal thousands-years-old tradition…Otzi the “ice-man” in bolzano in it’s museum got thousands of visitors each years. Otzi was about fifty years old. He was found the 19th september in austria at the place where he fell 5300 years after. On his body 16 tattoos made of 50 lines placed on acupuncture. During a thousand years (from XIth to III century BC) the scythes would occupied stepps the Altai and the north of the black see, and they spread their culture. In 1947 an archelogist discovered in the north of siberia: the site of pazyryk with 1929 scythe’s tomb of Vth to IIIrd century AD. The mummies wore very complex tattoos representing fabulous animals. The scythe were a people of oral tradition that didn’t know how to write: their civilisation was only known through herodote’s writings. So called “barbarians”, that would grow cannabis but who were masters of all asia for 20 years and conquered even egypt…Egypt: 4000 years of tradition. Ameut, priestress in thebes under the XIth dynasty (2134-2040 BC) didn’t wait for the scythes to get tattooed. The hieroglyphics on her tomb explain that she had devoted her life to the cult of hator, the cowheaded godess. Once unvailed the mumy revealed scarifications and bleu lines on her stomach. Realy disturbing for the doctor fouqets who sees similarities between the tattoos of the 4000 years old young woman and his living egyptians customers. He witness that after 4000 egyptian tattoo stays unaltered! Plato, ceasar, herodote…they all say they met tattooed people. Even the greeks learned tattoo from the persians. Concerning the celtes opinions are diferents. But the idea is not stupid as we know that otzi was tattooed and that the cradle of the celt civilisation is in hassalt in the german tyrol. On the american continent traces of incas tattoos go back to the XIth century, and in mexico and central america spanish tales of the XVIth century talk about Mayas tattoos.In north america, the most courageous chickaw warriors were full of tattoos. Iroquois tattoos would reflect their place in the community.
With the use of branding by the slave drivers and numerotation of the deported during WW II it becomes more and more difficult to diferenciate tattoo with morbity.
A point on the face for each whale killed. The inuit are coming from asia and live nowadays in the artic regions of america and groenland. They have developed a complex animist religion. Women got tattooed to perpetuate the tradition of fertility whereas men as hunther would get tattooed according to the number of animals they got. Nowadays this tradition has almost disapeared.
In the marquise islands, the tuhuna (tattooer) was respected. H had to have a long training before he could do his work. The tattoo defined the social status of the individual and proved it’s resistance to pain. By the fact the biggest tattoos were on warriors and chiefs bodies. Tatau had a lots of tabous (tapu): women had to have their hands tattooed since their 12 years or they couldn’t prepare the popoi (fruits based past). A tattooed man couldn’t eat with a woman. And a man with a full body tattoo couldn’t share his diner with a man who ahd a partial tattoo. In india, the rabaris are one of the most tattooed ethny of asia. Traditionally, tattoo is women’s business. With a long needle rabaris women protect themselves from bad luck and tell their own story: the one of the nomads of the gudjarati’s desert. Sometimes mothers tattoo their daughters since the age of 3 because a woman without tattoos can’t seduce a man. 30 years ago tattooing machines have replaced the needles. And travelliung tattooers took the role of the women. but they don’t know about the rabaris symbolics which generates a degradation of the tradition.
Thai’s tattoo can occupies all the surface of the body but is separeted in two parts from the waist. The upper part devoted to the personal sphere and the down part devoted to the public sphere. This last which spread from the belly button to the knees was nicknamed ” tattoo breeches” by the first alien observers. Composed of severals copies of a same animal design, the “breeches tattoo” was a social duty for every thai men untill the middle of the last century. First of all it meant the passage to adulthood but also shown territorial origin and could have protective functions. If the tattooing of the upper part of the body is still common nowadays, the “breeches tattoo” is not done anymore because considered as a sign of the past. In the Lu ‘s community of the north laos only men of 50 years old past still wear it. In his writings marco polo says that men of Myanmar ( the “wonderfull country”, renamed burma by the settlers) tattoo all their body. Tattoo goes along with hard period of life: puberty, maternity, illness, mourning. It’s during this difficult period for the karen people (8 percent of the burma pop) that a particular tattoo became the symbole of a desperate fight. Kawthoolei is thename that the karens give to state they dream to be independant once again. They were betrayed by the british that promissed them independance so they became allies during World war II; and now the karens are the victimes of persecution and frequent massacre from burma authority. They only have the hope for aung san suu kyi to access to power and a tattoo a divinity engraved across the heart to protect from the bullets… In japan during the Edo’s area (1600-1868) the popularity of tattoo spread thanx to the translation of a chinese best-seller: Suidoken. The novel talk about the adventures of 108 out-lawed largely tattooed that challenged the corrupted chinese leaders. It becomes the symbole of the resistance tot he tokugawa regime. The tattooists used the illustrations to engrave the revolt in the skin of the oppressed. The simple peole had not the right to wear too shimmering clothes so they’ll wear beatifull tattoos!
For the imazighen “free men” most known as berbers. Nomade sheperd united by the use of the same language. The berbers women would tattoo their chin from on ear to the other to symbolizes the beard of the disapeard husband. Those who would see their men prisoned would tattoo chains on their wrist.
From the XVIth to the XVIIth century the practice of the tattoo bt the amerindians fascinate the frenchs. For the indians it was aesthetical for women and sign of courage for the men. In the XVIIIth century in louisiana, a french officer named jean-bernard bossu was adopted by the nation akancas for bravery: hi was tattooed a roe deer. At the same periode a lots of canadians would have a plant or an animal tattooed because it would ease commercial relationships with the indians. Europeans got tattooed to enter the indian social community and the indians would get baptised to enter the community of the christians.
At the beginning of the XIXth century the church forbids (in the marquise islands) all body adornments and by the fatc kill the culture of this islands. The last generation of tattooed marquisians died in the 1930’s. Everyone thought that those islands were aculteredn and that the traditional designs were lost…but that was wrong! In the 1970’s inhabitant of the islands go for a quest of their roots. But where to find the designs of this society of oral tradition? In the western world! Collecters and scientists had braught them back or even published it. This is where the marquisians search since the 1980’s.
In 1872 emperor matsuhito forbids tattoo not to hurt the other nations. Ironically this the strangers that were the most interested in japanese tattoo. During a trip to japan the king George Vth of england got a big dragon tattooed on his arm.
Tattooers sometimes go around the world the improve their art and to learn from other culture. Each of them develops it’s own style and technic. There’s a big difference tribal tattoo and modern tattoo. In our society where personal choice prevails tattoo don’t need anymore to show who we are but who we want to be. In this way it has become the bearer of idealism. Being tattooed doesn’t excludes anymore. From the samoa islands to new-york going by paris and goa tattoo (like Art) has changed into an intercultural language.
The technic of tattooing have changed a lot even if the base consist in put pigment under the derma. In the past the tattooists would use fragments of bones, see shells, ivory or teeth. Untill the day when O’rilley invented the electrical tattooing machine in 1891. Pigments used in the past would come from coal, organic or vegetal matter mixed with alcohol, water, blood etc…A debat is going on in europe about the inks some wouldn’t be sterils some others would give allergies…one more reason to take care of your skin.