The word tattoo is said to have two major derivations- from the Polynesian word ‘ta’ which means striking something and the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means ‘to mark something.’ Tattoos are created by inserting pigment beneath the skin. In some of the tribal cultures, the tattooing technique was known to be very painful and harsh. The tattoo was created by cutting designs into the skin, usually with Bamboo, and then rubbing ink or ashes into the wound. Some cultures still continue this practice.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of Bamboo Tattoo Art as the practice is so old the history is almost lost, being tied up with myth and legend. Many countries in South East Asia lay claim to be the birthplace of this ancient art form. However, it is generally believed to have originated in the Khmer period around 3000 years ago. In Thailand, bamboo tattooing began in the Buddhist temples, with monks receiving religious text tattoos from grand master monks for protection. Throughout periods of conflict in Thailand, soldiers would visit temples to be tattooed by the monks with spells for such things as protection, strength or invisibility.
The earliest evidence of tattoos was for a long time Egyptian, and present on many female mummies dated to 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery of the Iceman from the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old. The distribution of the tattooed dots and small crosses on his lower spine, right knee and ankle joints correspond to areas of strain-induced decay, with the suggestion that they may have been applied to alleviate joint pain and were therapeutic. This would also explain their somewhat random placement in areas of the body which would not have been that easy to display.
In Japan, the tattoo technique is primarily hand based. The traditional Japanese tattoos are still hand pushed. The pigment is inserted under the skin using a non-electrical, handmade and hand held device with needles either made of bamboo or steel.
In Pacific cultures tattooing has a huge historic significance. Polynesian tattooing is considered the most intricate and skillful tattooing of the ancient world. Polynesian people believe that a person’s spiritual power, is displayed through their tattoos.
In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo by hand has been defined by rank and title, with chiefs and their assistants, descending from notable families in the proper birth order. The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted when they hit puberty, were elaborate affairs and were a key part of their attendance to a leadership role.
The Greeks learned tattooing from the Persians and the Romans adopted it from the Greeks. Roman writers reported that many criminals and slaves were tattooed as a way of identification. Greeks and Romans also used tattooing as a punishment. Early in the fourth century, when Constantine became Roman emperor and abolished the prohibition on Christianity, he also banned tattooing on face, which was common for convicts, soldiers, and gladiators.
Tattoos have changed throughout the years, especially in the United States and have become more widespread in its popularity. A tattoo gun is now the most common way to get tattooed in the modern world. The basic machine was invented by Thomas Edison and patented in the United States in 1876 called Stencil Pens. It was originally invented to be used for engraving, but in 1891 Samuel O’Reilly realized that it could be modified and used to put in inside the skin. He later introduced and patented the tube and needle system. Most modern tattoo machines can control needle depth, speed, and force, which has allowed tattooing to become a very precise art form.
The majority of what we know today about this ancient art has been passed down through legends, songs, and ritual ceremonies. Luckily though, these stories exist to document the history of tattoos.