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History of tattoo

The tattoo is a practise used for centuries in many cultures in the world. From New Zealand to South America, there are many evidences of spread of tattoo.

polynesian tattoo

Incise on own skin a symbol or a simple sign is tied to the will of man to express himself and make art. Who decides to get a tattoo, often chooses symbols that mean something for him and reinforce the image he has of himself.

The tattoo was born as an initiation practical although over the centuries, the motivations were changed to become today, increasingly, an element of decoration.
The word tattoo comes from the Polynesian “tatau” which means beating or branding, derived from the term “tau-tau,” onomatopoeia that remembers the sound produced by tapping of the timber on the needle to pierce the skin.

In 1769 the Captain James Cook was the first that used for the first time the term Tattow, then become Tattoo, noting in his notebook the techniques of tattoo used by indigenous Polynesian.

There are traces of tattoos in the ancient Roman and Egyptian civilizations. For example the Egyptians used them during the funeral ceremonies, as tattoos are found on the bodies of the dancers.

Initially in ancient Rome the tattoo was restricted and used only as a tool for branding criminals and condemned. Later, after the battles with the British in which the use of tattooing was used as a distinguishing mark of honour, some Roman soldiers began to tattoo on their skin own markings.

Among the early Christians was rather widespread tattooing a tau on the forehead, the symbol of the cross of Christ.

But when Christianity became the religion of State, make tattoo on body was banned, so this practice fell a bit out of use in Europe.

indigenous maori tattooThe peoples of Oceania have a long tradition in the art of tattooing the body.

In Polynesia the tattoo was considered a sign to stand out in society, and it was practiced by the upper classes. It also had a sense of initiation into adulthood, being practiced in children during puberty. The tattoo was also used to attract women, because they preferred the man who was completely covered.

In New Zealand the Maori signed their treaties drawing faithful replicas of their “moko”, personalized facial tattoo. These moko are still used to identify who brings them as member of a certain family or to symbolize the successes in life.

In Borneo natives tattooed an eye on the palm of their hand so it could guide them in their passage to the afterlife.



In Europe the condemnation against the practice of tattooing continued until the fifteenth century. After the oceanic explorations of the eighteenth century, the use of tattoo the body came back in use and make know this tradition by the peoples of Oceania.


sailor tattooSo at the end of the nineteenth century the use of tattooing spread even among the European aristocracy, the tattoo becomes an expression of “body art”. For example the famous tattooed people were Tsar Nicholas II and Sir Winston Churchill.

The twentieth century marks a rather abrupt return to the past. The tattoo is regarded as the preserve of the lower classes of society. In fact the lower classes such as prisoners, the criminals or sailors are people that use to tattooing.

In years ’60 and ’70 the youth movements resort to tattooing as a form of transgression, and to affirm their strong opposition to a particular system.

From the ’90s onwards, the tattoo has instead become a cultural phenomenon, which binds to a personal choice to beautify own body. And in this period born specialized magazines for fans of sector.

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