Tattoos: a History of Skin and Ink

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Tattoos: A History of Skin and Ink
Ralph Bianco
Axia College

What is a tattoo? A tattoo is a design made or a permanent mark within the skin made by the operation of picking while leaving behind an ineffaceable ingraining of coloring into the punctures or by scar rising. That would be the definition, however, a tattoo, to many, has a more personal, abstract meaning. To many people tattoos would symbolize religion, status, experiences, art and individuality. Just as fascinating, is the history of the tattoo itself. Tattoos come in many different styles, designs, colors, sizes and shapes. Purchased on a whim or sought as art, hidden or flaunted, generation after generation, the tattoo has left its mark (Krakow). From its place on the time line, person to person, from culture to culture, the purpose of tattooing varies. Though tattoos may seem as a sort of modern-day cultural phenomenon, history will show that tattoos have been a part of many cultures for many years. Tattooing, noted as (“to mark something” in Tahitian) has been in existence since the year 12,000 B.C. (Demello). Borneo women tattooed their forearms with symbols indicating their particular skill, noted in A Brief History of Tattoos. A woman’s prime marriageable status would increase if she were to bear an indicating symbol that weaving is a trade she is skilled in. Believed to ward away bad spirits and illness, tribes tattooed their wrists and fingers. The earliest tattoos in recorded history could be supported in Egypt around the construction era of the pyramids. As Egypt’s empire developed, the tattooing art would broaden as well. Civilized life in areas such as Arabia, Greece and Crete not only picked up the art form but expanded it (A Brief History of Tattoos). To identify rank and communicate, the spies of Greek used tattoos. With tattoos, the Romans marked slaves and criminals, which are still practiced today. Tattooing had extended to China around 2000 B.C. (Demello). A belief in historic Asian culture is image wearers call the spirit of that image. Japan was introduced to tattooing by the Ainu, where tattooing turned into a ceremonial and religious rite. The Dayak warriors would tattoo their hands if they were to have “taken a head” (A Brief History of Tattoos). The owner’s status for life would be solidified and respect would be garnered by the tattoos. Tribal communities of the Polynesians developed tattoos to mark rank and families. Polynesian art traveled to areas such as New Zealand where a face tattoos, more commonly known as Moko, were developed and is practiced to this day (A Brief History of Tattoos). There’s affirmation to show the Aztecs, Incans and Mayans used ritualistic marking as well as Alaskan remote tribes. Family crests, a tradition still in use today, were tattooed by the early Saxons, Norse and Danes in the West. Pope Hadrian outlawed tattooing in 787 A.D.; yet tattooing thrived prior to the invasion of Britain in 1066 when tattooing was disdained by the Normans. As a result of the disdaining, tattooing disappeared from the 12th to 16th centuries from the Western culture. Tattooing in Japan, however, thrived while the practice of tattooing diminished in the West. Originally tattoos were used as a means to identify criminals. First offenders would have a line marked across their forehead, the next offense would be followed by the addition of a curvature and the third offense an additional line would complete the symbol. The Japanese character for “dog” was formed by these marks. Anthropologists argue that the “dog” marking was the origination of the “three strikes, you’re out” law. The Japanese later escalated tattooing to an aesthetic art form. Originated around 1700, the full body tattoo was a social reaction against strict laws pertaining to evident consumption. Ornate attire was strictly allowed to only royalty. As a result, middle-class individuals would adorn themselves with detailed tattoos to cover their entire...
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