Tribal tattoos go back to ancient times when almost every culture used tattooing - the oldest being that of a Bronze Age warrior who lived more than five thousand years ago. People like the Celts, the Aztecs, the ancient Egyptians and others all used tattoos for different reasons. Sometimes tattoos were purely for personal adornment, to denote rank, or as a way of proclaiming oneself as a member of a certain tribe - sometimes tattoos had religious significance and often temporary tattooing was used during times of war. Many African tribes would use this type of tattooing to make themselves appear more frightening to their enemies.
Tribal art tattooing is becoming something of a modern phenomenon as they are among the most requested designs around. Almost everyone seems to have heard of tribal tattoos and they want the bold, often black outlined designs tattooed on their bodies. Tribal designs often depict animals or birds, whatever seemed important to the ancient mind. Even now, tribal tattoos are not just a matter of adornment; they are most often a personal statement about who a person is and what they are like. African and Pacific Island tribes created the most distinctive tattoo designs - many of them reflecting the world that these people inhabited. Much tribal tattooing was facial and in some parts of the world these facial tattoos are most often used as a reminder of a person's tribal or family history. New Zealand Maoris in particular use this type of facial tattooing and their tattoos are usually quite distinctive.
Native Americans also used tribal tattooing and very often this was a way of distinguishing one tribe from another tribe. The Native Americans used tattoos when they were going to war - not so much to frighten their enemies but to provide them with protection. In the tribal world, things are not always as they seem and tattooing and tattoo designs were not just mere ornaments, they meant something. They were also a way of defining who was a member of the tribe and who was outside of it. Tribal tattooing was brought to the West by sailors in the nineteenth century who also brought with them the expertise and the special inks and needles of the tribal tattooist.
The tribal art tattoos that we have now are often not the same as the tribal tattoos of the ancient world. Rather they are a mixture of ancient tribal tradition and modern tattoo design. This is largely due to a movement in the nineteen nineties that saw direct representation of ancient tribal tattoos as disrespectful to what the tattoos originally symbolized - so the tribal tattoos that are popular today are a hybrid of ancient tradition and modern day overtones. Now the Celtic knot is popular and so are stylized versions of the heads of animals. You may also see sunburst tattoos and these also are reminiscent of the tribal traditions.