Check Out These Three Ancient Tattoo Traditions Still Being Inked Today

Not your average ink

Nicole Scherzinger celebrating her Hawaiian pride Image Raphael Mazzucco

The word tattoo comes from the Polynesian word tatau meaning ‘to write.’ It’s a practice that has been around for a very long time and is more and more prevalent these days. It seems that everyone and their dog is inked.

Most are aware of the Western style of tattooing – the electric gun, the noise and the sometimes questionable choices people make when etching permanent markings on their bodies.

But did you know that tattoos have a much deeper connotation for an array of cultures? It wasn’t always tweety birds and mom hearts. South Pacific civilisations have been incorporating the art of tattooing into their customs for thousands of years. In fact, many indigenous groups from all walks of life have been drawing on themselves for a while now.


Angelina Jolie in Wanted Image Universal Pictures


Angelina Jolie famously received a traditional tattoo from Thai artist Sompong Kanphai who inked her and chanted a blessing over her design. The massive Bengal tiger on her lower back was done manually with a huge needle – to celebrate her Cambodian citizenship in 2004.

With that in mind, here are three awesome and old tattoo traditions from all over the globe. Let it inform you next time you get an inkling for some ink.





A form of tattooing created by the Tai tribes of southwestern China and northwestern Vietnam over 2,000 years ago. Now it’s primarily found in Thailand. There are three forms of Yantra, they all have magic and protection qualities but for specific reasons. One is commonly worn by those in law enforcement, gangs, and dangerous professions because it wards off evil. The second is to make a person seem smarter or more eloquent while the third is meant to instill fear in others. Though, it only works if the wearer follows certain rules and stays away from certain foods.





The Samoan style of tattoo is the traditional style worn by males. It’s meant to cover the body from waist to knees. The process is extremely painful as is traditionally done using bones, turtle shell, and wood. It is only ever performed this way and takes a week to complete, sometimes years. These markings are a rite of passage and signify courage.





This Chinese ethnic minority resides in the Yunnan province. The Derung women tattooed their faces up until the 1950’s. This was done because for a long time they faced threats from the neighbouring Tibetan people who would often mistreat derung girls. To prevent this, parents began tattooing their daughter’s faces from the age of 13. Eventually, the threats subsided, and the tradition decreased, There are only a handful of women left in the world with these tattoos.


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