Nowadays, tattoos are a way of self-expression and a fashion accessory. However, previously they had a much deeper and sacred meaning for their owner. Tattoos were amulets, protecting their wearers from evil spirits and death. Also, such drawings could be a tribute to deceased comrades.
Tribal tattoos are one of the earliest styles of such designs. Their origin is considered to be Polynesia. Interestingly, the word tattoo comes from the Polynesian word tatau. These tribal tattoos were applied during a special sacred ritual with prayers, to give sacred power to the drawing.
Tribal tattoos became widespread all over the world thanks to the sailors. In 1771, James Cook sailed to Tahiti and New Zealand, after which he “brought” the word “tattoo” to Europe. He spoke about the behavior of the Polynesians on his journey, which he, by the way, called “Tattoo”. In addition, he brought Tahitians named Mai to Europe, and since then the tattoo has become widely known, mainly because of Mai’s tattoos. However, each nation complements tribal tattoos with elements of their own folklore.
Nowadays, tribal tattoos are no longer done for their sacred meaning. People choose this style because of the beautiful patterns that can be applied to any body part. However, it is necessary to understand what each tribal tattoo means, so in this article, we have gathered 50+ tribal tattoo ideas with meanings, told you why you should choose such a tattoo, and described in which color it will look best.
Why Is a Tribal Tattoo a Good Choice?
Tribal tattoos always attract the attention of others. Even though each nation used different techniques to draw such tattoos, they have one common style which is expressed in the following distinctive features.
💠 Geometric patterns. Tribal tattoos are created using regular geometric figures like mandalas. However, unlike this style, in tribal tattoos, the geometric figures are not the center of the composition, but simply an addition.
⚫️ Black, gray, or dark brown colors. The main elements of tribal tattoos are in most cases performed in dark colors.
🔴 Colored inserts. Additional elements of tribal tattoos are performed using different colors. For example, in Celtic tattoos, the tree of life can be applied using green colors.
〰️ Lots of curves. Tribal tattoo elements have many curves on the edges. For example, Oceania tribal tattoos consist entirely of such pieces.
📌 The tattoo location. More often than not, tribal tattoos are performed in the form of an arm from the shoulder to the wrist. They are also often placed on the outside of the thigh.
50+ Unique and Trendy Tribal Tattoo Ideas for Men & Women
The ideas of tribal tattoos are mainly the inheritance of the folklore of different countries. To make your search easier we have selected 50+ different ideas and divided them into 14 groups.
Celtic tribal tattoos are one of the most popular styles. These drawings most often feature a Celtic labyrinth or tree of life. Below we will list the meanings of these symbols.
💠 Each turn of the Celtic Labyrinth represents the versatility of human life and its variability.
🌳 The tree of life means that everything around people is interconnected, even things that one cannot see. It also symbolizes the existence of parallel worlds and their unity.
Irish tribal tattoos are a subspecies of Celtic designs. They differ in the thicker lines and larger size of the design.
Irish tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
☘️ Representation of life on Earth;
☘️ Infinite love;
The most common elements of Indian tribal tattoos are deities. They are also often complemented by mandalas, which symbolize the environment of their deity. Below we list the meanings of the most popular symbols of Indian tribal tattoos.
✨ Shiva – symbolizes the struggle for a righteous cause;
✨ Saraswati – brings wisdom, success, and insight;
✨ Brahma – endows its wearer with eternal spiritual life and gives strength;
✨ Lakshmi – gives good fortune and abundance;
✨ Krishna – powers of forgiveness;
✨ Ganesha – prosperity.
Africa is the center of tattooing in the world. Each tribe had its language of drawings. The tattoos on the body could tell everything about a person and his status in society. They were a kind of passport.
An individual tattoo could signify both the events that took place over decades of a person’s life and convey the meaning of a single phenomenon (for example, a wedding or the birth of a child).
Polynesian tribal tattoos have found their usual form in Tonga and Samoa. Warriors and priests from these islands underwent a special ritual of tattooing. They were tattooed with patterns of geometric shapes from the waist to the shoulders.
Polynesian tribal tattoos have such meanings:
🏝 Protection from dark forces;
🏝 A talisman against the evil eye;
Hawaiian tribal tattoos are an offshoot of Polynesian tattoos. They differ in smoother and softer lines, but the main elements remain the same and are associated with sea creatures.
Hawaiian tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
🌅 Protection from evil spirits;
🌅 Wealth and prosperity;
Viking tribal tattoos are not the most popular idea. However, this is great news, because it will be extremely difficult to meet a person with a similar tattoo to yours.
Viking tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
Native American tribal tattoos most often depict a Native American skull, animal totems, and dream catchers. They can be found in both black and white and in color.
Native American tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
🔍 Protection from evil spirits;
🔍 The memory of loved ones;
Aztec tribal tattoos consist of many symbols and elements. They were applied to show their social status, frighten an enemy, or glorify the gods.
This idea of tattoos often involves careful work with shadows, because of which the drawing acquires volume.
Aztec tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
Mexican tribal tattoos took the ideas of the Aztecs and supplemented them with their elements. That is why you can often find skulls, architecture, and other symbols.
Mexican tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
💀 Unconsecrated life;
💀 Life Force.
Cherokee tribal tattoos have similar elements to Native American tattoos. For example, the dream catcher is found in both ideas, but the Cherokee are the originators of this symbol.
Cherokee tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
🏹 Indomitable strength;
🏹 Physical Power;
🏹 Protection against evil spirits.
Originally, Filipino tribal tattoos had a clear purpose. People believed that such drawings had sacred meaning and helped them communicate with the gods.
Nowadays, these tattoos are popular because of the beautiful patterns. Also thinner outlines make these tattoo ideas more attractive.
Filipino tribal tattoos have the following meanings:
Tribal animal tattoos are inspired by the styles of different nations, so the type of drawing may vary. For example, tattoos with sea creatures are more often made in the style of Polynesian tribal tattoos.
Below we will list the meanings of the most popular tribal animal tattoo ideas.
🐬 Physical strength;
🦌 Life and divine power.
You can choose any symbol you like and make it into a tribal-style tattoo. Symbols with curves will look especially expressive because the style of tribal tattoos will emphasize this feature.
Which Tribal Tattoo to Choose: Colorful or B&W?
The choice of color depends on your taste preferences. However, it is worth paying attention to such aspects as the complexity of execution, maintenance, and durability. To simplify your choice, we have listed the pros and cons of black and white and color tattoos.
|⚫ B&W||✅ The simplicity of execution. This tattoo can be done by any tattoo artist.|
✅ Cost. Black and white tattoos cost less than color tattoos.
✅ Universality. You can always add color elements to the black and white tattoo.
|❌ Brightness. Black and white tattoos are not as bright and do not attract the attention of others as much.
|🔴 Colored||✅ Creativity. You and the tattoo artist have more room for self-expression by adding different colors.|
✅ Attractiveness. Colored tattoos immediately attract the eyes of others.
✅ Composition. You can create a real picture from a variety of colors on your body that won't merge into one black spot.
|❌ The difficulty of execution. Not every tattoo artist can work with different colors.
❌ Care. Colored tattoos are more difficult to care for.
Tribal tattoos begin their history at the origins of tattooing. They served as a talisman, a way to communicate with the gods, and even as a human passport. Nowadays, tattoos no longer have such sacred meanings and are a beautiful accessory.
However, tattoos can still be used to determine a person’s character. That’s why it’s important to choose an idea and know its meaning. To make sure you don’t have a hard time with this, we’ve gathered 50+ tribal tattoo ideas with meanings, explained why it’s a good choice, and pointed out the pros and cons of colored and b&w tattoos.
A tattoo isn’t just a drawing, it’s an expression of your soul.
🔝 What Are the Most Popular Tribal Tattoo Ideas?
The most popular tribal tattoo ideas are Celtic, Irish, Indian, African, Polynesian, Hawaiian, Vikings, Native American, Aztec, Mexican, Cherokee, Filipino, animals, and simple ones.
❓ What Are the Distinguishing Features of Tribal Tattoos?
The distinguishing features of tribal tattoos are geometric patterns, black, gray, or dark brown colors with colored inserts, and curves on the edges.
🦈 What Animals Can Be Depicted in the Style of Tribal Tattoos?
Some of the most popular animal tribal tattoo ideas include sharks, turtles, wolves, lions, owls, and cougars.