The history of American tribal tattoos goes back a long way to many olden tribes, where they would use tattoos as a sign of distinction between members of different tribes as well as with different members of the same tribe. There were some tribes that did not believe in using tattoos, but most of them did. In some tribes, only important members of the tribe like the Chief or Shaman wore these as a sign of their superiority.
Most of these designs were very crude symbols that held special significance in the lives of the tribesmen. Some symbols signified the occurrence of certain epic wars and battles, some symbols were used to offer spiritual protection and healing, whereas some even signified the family history and bloodline of an individual. Nowadays, people who wish to preserve the traditions of these native American tribesmen are the ones who are commonly seen sporting native tattoos.
Most tribes had specific animals or birds that they revered and deified and offered their prayers to. Creatures like the wolf, fox, eagle, etc. were considered symbols and were deified. The people and descendants of each tribe commonly flaunted tattoos of these creatures, and showed their allegiance to them. Other tribal designs were large interlinked patterns that were symmetrical and seemingly endless in appearance, and some of them even carried powers to protect people who were sick and required healing.
The Shaman was a witch-doctor in every tribe and many tribesmen would get tattoos based on the advice of the Shaman. In order to receive protection from dangerous spirits and other potential dangers, many tribesmen would get tattoos of protective symbols and sayings that lent them comfort. It was believed that some individuals even gained supernatural powers and abilities by getting certain designs.
These tattoos were applied by cutting the skin with various bones or rocks, and then a colored dye would be applied to the wound. Some tribes even made use of certain plants and even soot to add the necessary color. You may have seen a lot of pictures of a person's entire face being covered with tattoos, and this was applicable only for those people who supposedly carried a lot of magical and mystical powers.
Common Symbols and Designs
The meanings of most tattoos were unique to their specific tribes, and the same symbol could be taken to mean many different things between different tribes. It all depended on the beliefs within a certain tribe, and how their Shaman interpreted various omens and signs. In today's world, the designs of dream catchers, feathers, totem poles, and even the faces of a native American are widely popular choices. Most people who get these tattoos though, are merely paying homage to their ancestral heritage.
Some that you come across may not even mean anything in particular. They are simply used for attractive decorative purposes because they look nice. To ascertain the exact cause of a certain design is fairly difficult, as it depends on the views and the beliefs of the tribe that it was used in. As mentioned before, the same symbol could have different meanings in different tribes.
If you are planning to get a Native American tribal tattoo done, then, ensure that you know the exact meaning of the design that you are getting on your body.