What Do Tribal Tattoos Represent?

Are you thinking about getting a tattoo? Whether it’s your first one or another addition to the existing ones, you could be considering a tribal design. Everyone agrees they look great but have you ever wondered about the meaning hidden behind these tattoo designs?

In this guide, we are discussing tribal tattoo meanings and how these art forms developed in different cultures. Here is what you should know before choosing one for yourself!

Is It Appropriate to Get One?

You don’t have to originate from a certain tribe or belong to culture to get this tattoo type. But for tribe members, drawing on their bodies is about symbolism. Each tattoo has a specific meaning, which is why it might be offensive to get one just for its design.

If you want to honor that culture or its style, make sure to learn more about the symbolism. That way, your tattoo won’t only look beautiful but have a deeper meaning. Check out these main categories of tribal tattoos and pick your favorite.

African Tribal Tattoos

Elephant African Tattoo

Africa is a large continent where you’ll find different cultures. Today, an increasing population follows the religion of Islam, which considers tattoos unholy. However, the spirit of tattooing is very much alive in sub-Saharan Africa.

You can connect tribal tattoo styles to different cultures and traditions in Africa. Most have one thing in common – a bold design and hidden meaning. African tribes believed that each tattoo piece discusses the character or strength of the person who’s wearing it.

Here are some hidden meanings in African tattoos:

  • Scenery – the richness and beauty of the land
  • Flowers – the health and attractiveness of a man
  • Elephants – power and strength
  • Masks – spirits of ancestors or a good harvest

Pattern African Tattoo
Tribal tattoos from this continent often come with sun motifs and bold zig-zag lines. Shading is imperative, especially since tattoo stylists use it to pinpoint contrasting areas. African tattoo experts believe that many tribe members didn’t hesitate to add aesthetic touches to their body art.

This is important in modern times since it gives much more freedom to you and your stylist. If you want to show off with some bold shading, African tribal tattoos are a great choice. First-timers often choose this design because it can leave a great impression.

African Tattoo

Native American Style

Native Americans have a rich culture that strongly believes in spirits. You’ll often find animal tattoos, and they can even represent an individual’s spiritual animal. Wolves might be the dominant one, but we also see falcons, bears, etc. It depends on a person’s connection to an animal or the special powers it brings them.

A bold design is characteristic of Native American tribal tattoos. Stylists portray animals with black ink and strong outlines. They often pair them with a dreamcatcher. Native Americans believe this protects you from evil spirits. The animal is your totem, which is why stylists often add a totem pole. This was a sacred object for most tribes since it features their protectors.

Due to the rich history, Native Americans have a large number of tribes that consider tattooing an important part of their culture. Cherokee and Haida might be the most famous for this approach.

 Native American Style Tattoo

Cherokee Tribal Tattoos

Cherokee is a Native American tribe, but their body art is so advanced they deserve a special mention. This tribe believes strongly in its religious teachings. They involve being one with nature and the community. You can feature the importance of that harmony and balance if you choose Cherokee tribal tattoos.

The Cherokee style doesn’t limit to using only black ink but supports colorful designs. The attractive appearance doesn’t change the strong hidden meaning.

A spiritual animal is often the main motive for this body art. As in other Native American traditions, wolves are the dominant ones. They represent strength, while an eagle with a feather shows honor, friendship, and love.  A skull tattoo is a frequent choice for this style since it represents dignity, pride, and passion.

 Cherokee Tribal Tattoo

Indian Tattoo Patterns

The Indian tattoo culture values aesthetics and meaning equally. If people couldn’t get jewelry and other body accessories, they resorted to tattooing themselves. Apart from decoration, individuals would use this form of body art to pinpoint their strength or spiritual journey.

Straight and curved lines, geometric patterns, and images are famous for Indian tribal tattoos. This culture has many deities that are often represented via body art. Elephants and tigers are among the animals, but also dragons and other creatures could also appear on tattoos.

If you are a female, a big tattoo of the goddess Kali is a wise choice. She represents “Shakti,” or the power of women. Floral patterns like lotus represent purity and rebirth, while geometrical patterns are a way to ward off evil beings.

Overall, the Indian style is perfect for those who want a large tattoo. A deity or animal can be the focal point, while the stylist can use different geometric forms around it.

Indian Tattoo Pattern

Celtic Tribal Tattoos

The strip character Asterix comes from a Celtic tribe known as the Gauls. He had a magic potion, but Celtic warriors were no less brave without it in reality. Apart from being brave, these tribes have a strong sense of aesthetics and architecture. That’s why you’ll find shading, circles, and decorations on Celtic tribal tattoos.

The symbolism that comes from nature is the main motive of this style. Animals and birds represent strength but also a free spirit of the individual. You can also go with wyrms, which is an ancient dragon creature that’s a part of Celtic mythology.

These tattoos are often colorful and don’t require using only black ink. They could feature red or another shading option to make the entire body art more visually attractive. Whether you want a big tattoo with a dragon or a small tribal cross, the Celtic style can be the way to go.

Celtic Tribal Tattoos

Polynesian Tattoo Designs

Polynesia is a huge area with more than 1,000 islands. You’ll find many different tribes, but they share the same tattoo style. These tribes rarely go beyond using black ink and empty spaces. It’s this simplicity that can ensure the tattoo looks clear and crisp.

If you choose Polynesian tribal tattoos, make sure to consider a suitable placement. If you put it on the back, it shows a mistake from your past. But if you go for the upper body, that’s a connection between the Earth and Heaven.

This style mixes different elements, but most of them come from nature. The ocean represents a major change that occurs, while turtles bring good luck. Polynesians also use human figures called Enata for their tattoos. If you want to show power and strength, use the shark teeth motif.

Polynesian Tattoo

Aztec Tribal Tattoos

The Aztec Empire that covered most of northern Mesoamerica had a rich culture and mythology involving the art of tattooing.  Those tattoos serve as inspiration for tattoo designs due to their beautiful and geometric forms. You can pick Quetzalcoatl, the powerful gigantic god. He symbolizes dawn or the beginning of life, but the culture also connects him to art and learning. That makes this tattoo a great choice for artistic and creative persons.

Aztec Tribal Tattoo

The stylists have a large degree of freedom with Aztec tribal tattoos. They often use a mixture of ink and blank spaces to convey the right message. Apart from mythology, Aztec tribes have wonderful architecture. Modern body art often finds inspiration in those structures, too.

Aztec Tattoo


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