THE HISTORY OF TATTOO IS HARD TO RECOUNT EVENTHOUGH IT’S AN ANCESTRAL PRACTICE WE CAN’T PLACE IT’S ORIGIN.
TATTOO HISTORY AND SYMBOLICS
A little history. Plato, herodote, marco polo, ceasar in his “de bello gallica” mention they have seen tattooed peoples. In india the legent of cyrrohe and bantas mentiones it too. Which was the first tattooed peole? No one knows but tattoo must have evolved simultaneously in several ethnies independantly and parallely. For proof a Shiite warrior 2000 years old is at the leningrad museum and his arms are covered with tattoos. Some traces of tattoos were found on a priestress of hator of the XIth dynasty, 2200 BC. And finnaly the most ancient trace scientifically proved is on Otzi’s body 5300 years old. S o tattoo is ancestral. The word tattoo comes from the thaitian “TA-TU” which derives from the word “TA-ATOUAS” which stands for “ta” design” and spirit “atouas”. Those aboriginal peoples would cover their bodies with signs meant to protect them from the evil spirits.
Tattoo and civilisations. With time people so called “civilised” have associated tattoo with “barbarism” of the peoles adorned this way. In egypt, 2000 BC a lots of nubians and lybians are entering the country. They don’t know the art of writing and tattoo is their only mean of communication and of religious and ethnical identification. Egypt toward those barbarians is no longer intersted in tattoo and even use it as a mark of identification for the slaves. Later the jews will also forbid tattoo and skin ncisions. And at last the christians will pretend a theological reason which that you can’t modify the look of a creation of god. The pope Adrian the 1st forbid the use of tattoo in 789 BC. Concerning the romans they would use tattoo as an indelible trace for parias, thieves, criminals etc…And for the muslims it is the mark of the demon whicn anhiliates any atempt of redemption. On the other side of the world for asians tattoo is an ancestral art. But, by the VIIth century with the arrival of confucianism and buddhism tattoo is considered as barbarian.
So it is the turn for japan to use tattoo as a mark for the criminals. The banned one marked this way couldn’t have any social life anymore. However the art of tattoo is not dead in japan and from 1600 and for a period of 250 years tattoo appears again. This historical area called Edo (from the former name of tokyo) see the rebirth of this art. The prostitues get covered with those adornements to have more appeal and so the art moves to the world of the workers. Even if the tattooing of the criminal is abolished in 1720 it is replaced by the mutilation of nose and ears untill 1870. This new way to bann people gives birth to the rapprochment of the exiled criminals. Out lawed warriors without masters (ronins) gather to create what we know nowadays as the Yakuzas, the japanese mafia. At this period japan is undergoing an “opening” to the world and wants to show it’s high level of civilisation and bann tattoo once again. Polynesia has an important role in the history of tattoo. The maori’s mythology explains us how the art of tattoo is born: Tattoo began with a love story between a youg man called Mataora and young princess from the world of darkness named Niwareka. One day mataora hited niwareka. So the young girl ran away to go back to the kingdom of her father , a place called Uetonga. Mataora was heart broken and repenting he left to search his beloved one. After many obstacles and tests he arrived at uetonga. But after his long trip the painting of his face was dirty. The family of of the young girl laughted at the look of mataora…humbly the young man begged for the forgiveness of the young girl, which she finally did. And the father of niwareka offered to the young man to teach him the art of tattoo. After niwareka and mataora join back the human world bringing with them the art of moko, which means tattoo. In the the maoris has developped importantly the art of tattoo. But it succumb to the christians civilisation which considered it as barbarian and to be forgotten at any cost. And what about france? france doesn’t escape to this anti-barbarian barbary…and to slavery and it’s tattooed. To mark the prisoners in a permanent way is common. Even the french state in it’s treachery says in the “black code” about slavery in 1885 that the parias would be marked with the lily flower at their first try to escape.
Why the Tattoo?
In the past tattoo was the symbole of membership to a clan, a religion, an ethny or even to protect from evil. In a lot of ethnies tattoo was the reflect of the social evolution or initiatic of an individual or it’s level of integration in the clan.
For some people like the maoris or the thais, in it’s shape, seize, evolution and representation would show the elevation of an individual. We can notice that in the marquise islands tatooed persons had to respect rules. Men and women had to fololow a code of behavior. This practice ceased in 1930 with the death of the last tattooed the imperialists had not killed. But tattoo as all recgnition signs through the ages had been faught by the very high political and religious powers, and had been banned from all so called “modern” civilisations. For the imazighen “free men”, more known as the berbers tattoo was at first aesthetical and then became a symbol of the resitance to the french invasion. Berber’s women got their chin tattooed from ear to ear to symbolise the beard of the de’ad husband killed by the invader. Women enslaved by the french army got their ankles tattooed with designs representing chains. Long before the firsts eastern christians, the coptes, got tattooed the sign of their religion. This tradition remained untill the XXth century for the pilgrimage to jerusalem. For the inuit men got the number of whale killed tattooed ont he face so they show how much they contributed to the wealth of the community.
In our western civilisation the symbolism of tattoo has been used by the out-lawed. Those for whom resistance and belonging meant something. In these case tattoo is used to show one’s opinion. It shows a desire of independance toward society. In the prisoners world five points mean “between four walls”. But tattoo is not reserved for the parias. At the time when europe start colonizing sailors and officiers that meet peoples adorned got tattooed too, so the practice spreads on all the continent in every social class. In japan the imperial governor Meiji in his efforts to integrates western civilisations, forbids tattoo considered as a barbarian relic of the past. So the japanese tattooists had to find new customers: travelers and sailors. In 1872, emperor Matsuhito ban tattoo not to hurt the feelings of the other nations. About ten years after King george Vth of england, got a dragon tattooed on his arm during a trip in japan. His own father would were a jerusalem’s cross in the crusader’s style. In the same way Bernadotte and his “death to the king” tattooed amongst other jacobin’s symboles, all this didn’t prevent him to become Charles XIVth of Sweden. We know that Edward VII and the tsar Nicolas were tattooed. After the battle of Hastings in 1066 which opposed the saxon king arnold II to William the conqueror; the decpitated body of arnold was identified by the word “edith” tattooed on his chest.
Wether it is long, large, big…wheter it represents a dolphin, a butterfly, a devil, a heart or a Michelangelo’s painting a tattoo is a pure symbol for the one who wears it. It express by it’s indelible nature a strong thought, a state. It can express according to the image chosen: strengh, love, passion, hatred ot simply a feeling one want to convey. Further more there is no tattoo without blood spreaded. The paricularity of the action gives it a high level of symbolic commitment. Since the beginnigs of times the blood spreaded volountarly is a symbole of courage, resistance or acceptation. The pain is an important element in tattooing. This pain, psychological masochism and proof of courage, is the plus value added compared to other graphic art and that this pain that makes the difference. The tattooee can’t conceive tattoo as painless. The slow pain of the needles in the skin is an experience that can’t be separate from the image that the newly tattooed will expose. The symbolics of tattoo is linked to the timeless aspect of things. Even if it’s easyer nowadays to remove a tattoo than at the last century getting inked is the fruit of a long reflexion.
The tattooing technic remind the symbolic of the number 3. 3 elements, 3 symboles. For some, stone-cutter, cisors, and matter: the stone. In tattoo, tattooist, machine and matter: Man. In the past the tattooer to put colored pigment uder the skin used bones, see shells, ivory, bamboo. Since the ancient times untill 1891 and the invention of the electrical tattooing machine, the principle of tattoo is still the same: 3 indissociable elemnts to make the work. Tattoo can also be linked to the symbolics of elements. Water: the ink, the Earth: the skin, air: cicatrising element, fire: pain. There are several way to live the experience of the tattoo. The world of today which claim to be open and without tabous is in fact the continuation of the old world in everything that fed intolerance, lack of understanding and prejudices about man. Our civilisation hunt, as it always did, everything that is different.
CONCLUSION: tO BE ARE NOT TO BE?
The origin of tattoo is lost in the begining of times. Since the first man known going by egypt, india, asia and europe the roots of the first tattoo are lost in the eternal ices of time. Mistycla culture, universal in the human meaning of the term, it is the common denominator of a lots of civilisation of initiated disapeared nowadays. Identity card, story of the past, will to belong to something, silent claim or simple adornment tattoo was, is and will be…