Before writing was invented, the first humans used to capture graphic representations of their lives on large rocks or cave walls instead of canvas. The same way a bunch of selfies can tell the story of one person’s year, or at least the most special moments, ancient petroglyphs were their way of immortalizing time through a ritual connotation.
This last part explains the inherent human need to graphically express the events in their lives. But, at what point did our ancestors jump from the rock to the body as a canvas? Apparently the origins also come with a magical, identifiable, status-related, background.
While the African continent reserved its permanent, well-known method of tattooing the skin, this practice was only available for priestesses. Through lines that would touch the wrists or ankles, as well as a set of dots around the pubic region, those tasked with being the links between the Gods and those on Earth in Ancient Egypt, would wear these symbols on their bodies to represent their power to the rest.
In Mesoamerican cultures, tattoos and body paint were signs of someone being a part of a specific movement or action, not to mention their place in the social spheres. It always came with a positive meaning: an important achievement was a great reason to add a graphic element to the skin. Other examples could be a warrior’s bravery in battle or belonging to the priestly caste.
Body art became a symbol that not only gave authority, but also defined social cohesion. It expressed the cultural charge and world perspective unique to the pre-Columbian peoples. Those who did not recognize the glyphs, meanders, dots, and designs did not belong to the group, tribe, or particular culture.
The tribal technique consists in the use of lines, meanders, and other symbols to obtain an effect similar to what our ancient ancestor’s would use. The designs tend to be in black ink; they can go from small bracelets around the wrists, to meanders that embellish the entire arm. African and pre-Columbian motifs are just some of the popular choices at the most famous tattoo studios in the world.
If you’re going for this kind of tattoo, you’ll be joining a millennium-long practice that continues to this day as a sign of admiration, respect, and, above all, as a unique cultural form of identity. At the same time, this is a subtle way of returning to the beginnings of the art of the tattoo. The ritual and historical aspects of each line etched on the body become a story to tell.