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March 7, 2010


Tattoos have been used for thousands of years through many different forms as a way of representation. Throughout time, the choice to decorate ourselves with colorful and decorative markings of ink has grown in popularity through elaborate portraits of body art, along with permanent cosmetic make-up.

The uses of tattoos have been traced as far back as 2000 b.c. in Egypt, which was found to be present in many Egyptian mummies.  Other evidence would be that of a famous 5000-year-old well preserved corpse of “Otzi the ice man,” who was found near the Italian-Austrian border.  Ancient Egyptians are those that have expanded the practice of tattoos to countries as far away as Japan, China, and the Greek regions. “Ta moko” is another popular form of body modification, which the Maori culture introduced from Eastern Polynesia. This is the same concept as a tattoo, only it carves the skin rather than punctures it. This leaves the skin with indented grooves rather than with smooth lines of a traditional tattoo. The descriptive word for “Tattoo” came from the ancient Polynesian word “tatau” (which means to tap). Pasefika (2010) stated “The foreigners from various European countries mispronounced and documented mispronounced words from Polynesia as they were originally spoken by native people. However with their documentation and usage it has led to the expansion of language.” (Meaning of Tatau 1: para. 5).

The purposes of tattoos are different in every culture from the use of symbols to lettering and characters; whether elaborate or plain each tattoo holds a personal meaning that portrays their personal status, along with symbolisms of love and religious beliefs.  In Egypt, the custom was for women to tattoo dots onto their upper thighs and torso. Lineberry (2007) stated, “During pregnancy, this specific pattern would expand in a protective fashion in the same way bead nets were placed over wrapped mummies to protect them and “keep everything in.”” (The Ancient and Mysterious History, para. 6). Lineberry (2007) also states, “The placing of small figures of the household deity Bes at the tops of their thighs would again suggest the use of tattoos as a means of safeguarding the actual birth, since Bes was the protector of women in labor, and his position at the tops of the thighs a suitable location.” (The Ancient and Mysterious History, para. 6). This was also said to help protect the women from contracting diseases. In Asia, tattoos were used as a means to identify a young woman reaching the age of maturity. In Greek regions, they were used to identify their slaves.  Although in other parts of the world, tattoos are still a form of identification and among existing tribes, a way of exhibiting their rank and seniority.  In today’s modern world, tattoos are used as a form of expression through decorative body art.  Individuals are allowing tattoo artists to use their body as a canvas for creating colorful body modifications, and also seeking enhancements of his or her natural features, also known as permanent cosmetics. 

In early cultures, tattoos were believed to summon the spirits of the animal images adorned on their bodies, and to provide protection while hunting. Identification with the animal spirit was initiated through the submission of pain during the creation of the tattoo, which also activated the spirits. “The spiritual leader of the tribe, the Shaman or the Medicine Man, in particular, needed ornaments to indicate his special relationship with the spirits or gods -- and his control or power over them. Tattoos were part of his arsenal, along with other amulets in the form of shells, horns, antlers, claws and teeth of animals.” (Religious Tattoos and Symbols of Faith and Spirituality: para. 7) To have been impeccably decorated was significant to be accepted in the afterlife. “The right tattoo could ensure favor with deities, without which the dying...
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