A way to be… different ?

tattoos (2)

Look around you : tattoos everywhere. I have some, and I think you too, or maybe one of your friend. Tattooshops everywhere too… even in the small town, incredible ! Nowadays a tattooshop is essential as well as a bakery! Apparently, this practice is embedded in our society so let’s travel a bit through time and the world to learn more about it. It’s still really difficult to situate this practice in the time and in the space. But everywhere in the world, it has helped to marginalize people.

In the primitive peoples of Polynesia, tattoo has developed the most. Generally, it marked membership in a high social class. Thus, the first class, the highest, was called “tattooed legs”, the second “tattooed arm”, the third “tattooed flanks” …
In the Marquis Islands all parts of the body were tattooed, except the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The more numerous and varied were the drawings, the more the person was old and raised in the social environment. Therefore, a beautiful tattoo for the Marquesan was a mark of pride. The instrument used for tattooing was a wooden handle on which were fixed various objects like a bird bone. The tattoo artist typed on this tool with a small hammer to facilitate penetration into the skin. The black dye was made from a nut mixed with water. I let you imagine how it could be painful…

In Japan, in the 5th century, tattoos served to punish criminals as well as cutting a hand or an ear. In the 17th century, prostitutes tattooed themselves on the arm, the back of the hand, the chest or the face.
It is therefore through these practices that the tattoo has been assimilated to the « bad habits » of Japanese society. It had a bad reputation for a long time, but now it’s more accepted. The motifs of Japanese tattoos are mainly figurative, such as flowers (especially the chrysanthemum which is the national flower), landscapes, animals…
In China, the culture of tattooing is important. Unlike Japan, they prefer colors, dragons, samurai… One of the main dyes used is obviously the China ink.

tattoos (1)

The practice of tattooing goes back very far in time. The known tattooed mummies date from 2000 BC. JC.
These practices had aesthetic, magical, superstitious or medical aims. For example, some tattoos were dams against death and for the geometric signs, the point has a magic role, the circle delimits the diseased part… To do this, the tattoo artist uses needles, the dye is a mixture of black smoke and woman’s milk.

The tattoo in North Africa existed 3000 years ago. JC. These tattoos had a ritual and medical value. The most commonly used motifs were croissants, vertical lines and lozenges, they were essentially on the face.
Although this practice is very old, Islam condemns the tattoo. According to the Koran, nothing should change the creation of God. But, despite the religious prohibition the tattoo is very widespread (the past and its customs override the forbidden). To counter this prohibition, there are also ephemeral tattoos : it is the henna tattoo that women are made on the feet and the hands. In Black Africa, it’s essentially tribal tattoos and scarifications. It is an embellishment. With a tribal tattoo they proved their identity, and differentiated themselves from the slaves who were not marked. Also, tattooing and scarification can mark the transition from one state to another (from child to adolescent or adolescent to adult). All these physical aggressions will strengthen the personality of the one who undergoes them, and increase his vital forces.

Pop culture and patriotic tattoos, including the American flag or old-school and pinup tattoos are favored. But in a deeper aspect, we find the culture of Native Americans in tattoos: the fascination with nature, drawings of wolves, bears, or eagles


The invention of the electric tattoo machine by the Englishman Samuel O’Reilly in 1891 revolutionized the art of tattooing. We are entering the era of modern tattooing. The principle is simple: needles connected to a nozzle that enters the skin. The risk of infection is reduced. O’Reillly’s machine still allows anyone to get tattooed at reasonable prices by experiencing less pain. In the 20th century, the tattoo lost its notoriety because the workshops are located mostly in distressed districts. The practice becomes clandestine, however it continues to develop in certain circles (military, juvenile delinquents, motorcyclists …). But in the late 1960s, Lyle Tuttle managed to erase the bad reputation of the tattoo by tattooing stars, especially women, including Janis Joplin. He becomes a real ambassador in the art of tattooing. Today the tattoo is at its peak. The society accepts this art form better! Getting tattooed has become almost mundane. Tattoo artists are real artists and respected as such. The tattoo still has the function of separating the person from nature or society, and differentiating people. It’s about asserting our identity. In the world in which we live, that is to say, a world in which everyone wears the same (almost) clothes, a world in which we are easily represented by numbers (as at school)… it is normal that we want to differentiate ourselves from others. Tattooing is a personal expression above all, a signature or a mark of recognition.

Chloe Dumeusois

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