Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tattoo: Origin, Culture, and Relevance

By Charity Lantz
A Māori Chief with tattoos

Tattoo origin is often debated, but most agreeably contributed to the Pacific Islands. For hundreds of years, the ancient peoples of Polynesia practiced tattoo, but not like we see it today. Travel over two hundred into the past, to ancient New Zealand with your mind, and then imagine a darkened hut, filled with sweet billowing smoke and hushed chants. Now imagine the screams coming from the man on the floor that is having his face chiseled into with an axe.  After the muscle is openly displayed, the priest performing the tattoo fills the gash with stinging pigment.  This aggressive, invasive process caused the skin to be grooved in addition to the mark. This added a sculptural quality to the tattoo art. The Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, saw this practice, which they called a moko, as the ultimate honor and proof of self-worth. Tattoo origin is widely associated with Polynesia; however, this chiseling process is exclusively Māori. The rest of Polynesia used a sharpened piece of bone and punctured the skin with ink on the tip. Tribal tattoo has a huge influence over many tattoo designs seen today.  Most tattoos implement tribal designs into the basis for a variety of overall difference images.

The Polynesia people also reserved tattoo to only high ranking individuals, seen as priests or chiefs; unlike today, when everyone and their grandma are getting inked. The popularity that tattoo has gained over the past decade is incredible. In a short time, contemporary tattoo culture has become rather inclusive, from musicians and rappers to hot chicks and nerds.  Tattoo is often associated with various music genres; Punk, Rock n Roll, Rap, and electronic artists can all be seen sporting tattoo art. Tattoos range from complex, classic tribal tattoo to Darth Vader as a baby with a drinking problem (I’m not joking). The clothing fashion of tattoo culture is hard to pinpoint exactly. A shot in the dark would put somewhere between hardcore greaser and grungy skater/biker. I guess if that’s what your mind conjures from rolled up sleeves, half-smoked cigarettes, and glimmering sun glasses, all while being covered in elaborate tattoo art, then you are on the right track.  But this image is just what the media portrays. In reality, all walks of people get tattooed for their own wishes. In today’s society, tattoo is often a broad indication of an individual being an artist or rebel in their own cause.  

The style and culture surrounding tattoos conveys a hard-minded mentality and a bad attitude, the same could be said of tattoo artists themselves. The process of becoming a tattoo artist is no light joke; it’s a lengthy and commendable goal to approach. To become a tattoo artist, the artist must first apprentice for two years. Before even performing a single tattoo, the apprentice must first learn proper sanitation and trade procedures by shadowing the experienced tattoo artist.  The tattoo art process can vary from the artist’s using either a pattern, print or nothing but bare skin an image, mental or physical.

Tattoo culture influences many contemporary urban artists as well. If you want to see more contemporary art visit Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla. It's located at 920 Kline St. #104 in La Jolla, San Diego. The gallery is open to the public Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-4pm. Many styles of prints, stickers, and artwork can also be bought at the gallery's online store. 



  1. Different tattoos have their own meaning. I would like to appreciate the blog owner for his efforts on Sun Tattoos.

  2. Hey,

    HipHop recording sensation Provy Suflayy released his first single off his upcoming album!!

    'A Star Burnin Brite' features New Zealand's " best kept secret" Kiwi artist Rachel Schryvers.

    Go buy now on iTunes and other fine online retailers for only $ .99 cents!!

    Check out the music video now on youtube!!