Tribal Tattoo History page 2

Tribal Tattoo History & Symbolism

Tattoos by Captain Bret

&  Celtic Tattoo


 All styles of Custom Tattoos

 Traditional Tattoos, Military, Nautical, Ladies Fine Line Cool Watercolors, Fancy lettering and Calligraphy Black & Grey or Extremely colorful designs     Sailor Jerry style. Tribal & Native Art specialist, Dot-work, Stipling, Expert  COVER- UPS & Repairs, Viking & Nordic, Dot-Work, Renowned for CELTIC Tattooing

 Newport, RI


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The tribal style originates from the old tribes like the Celtic, the Maori tribes, the Haida tribes, the inhabitants of the Marquesan and the tribes of Borneo. What a lot of people now recognize as Tribal is in fact a new style: New Tribalism are the remains of the old Tribal style. Particularly the Borneo style shows a lot of resemblance with New Tribalism.

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Concerning all Tribal styles the division in black and white is important. Not only of what has been tattood must have a good shape but also the parts that have been left blanc must also be well shaped. Besides it is more beautiful that the shapes follow your body contours. The balance with Tribals and Ornamentals are very important. That is the reason why it is so important to have a tattoo done by someone who understands the different styles.

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Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

The Celtic tribes
The old Celts lived mainly in England and Ireland (before also in France). Round the year 1000 the Celtic civilization gradually disappeared. Typical of this style is interlace, spirals, dogs, birds and humans

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The Maori tribes
The Maori originate from New Zealand and have traditional facial tattoos (moko) and special leg tattoos. This tattoo style, that shows a lot of resemblance with the wood carving of the Maoris, is typical for its spirals. Under influence of the missionaries the traditional Maori tattoos disappeared round 1900. In those days the Maori were hunted for their (tattooed) head as a trophy.

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The facial tattoos of the Maori were individually designed and there for never copied from each other. According to the legend the facial tattoos were made to be recognized by friends and family once deceased. According to the story the light goes right through you when you are dead, but your tattoos show who you are. Since 1980-1990 there is an uprising of the tattoo phenomenon under the Maori in New Zealand. For the Maori a tattoo means inner strength and mastering this inner strength.

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The Haida tribes
The Haida (Indian tribes) lived on the Northwest coast of America. This style of tattoos, which shows a lot of resemblance with the woodcarving of the Haida, thunderbirds, beavers, bears, fish and woodcarving are very common. The pictures are mainly about the Indian astrology. The Indians believed that you partly take over the strength of the animal when having such a tattoo. The Haida style is a forceful, masculine style.

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The Marquesan tribes
The Marquesan style originates from the inhabitants of the Marquesan Islands in Polynesia. These islanders used to be completely covered with tattoos. Their bodies showed picture stories, for other tribes to recognize who you were, where you were from and what you did. In the entire Polynesian area the tattoo culture always has been present, everyone was tattood. The word tattoo is derived from the word 'tatau' that comes from this area. The Marquesan style is mainly based on the divinity Tiki, who is always portrayed with his eyes closed because he smells danger before he sees it. Images that are used a lot in this style are: shells (wealth), shark teeth (protection) lizards, whales, turtles, fish hooks, and so on. The Marquesan style is a form of language in symbols.

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Borneo is situated above Indonesia. In former times the headhunters (from the Iban- and Dayak tribes) had tattoos for protection and as proof of their achievement. That is how one obtained a spiral in the form of a flower on the front of the shoulders when making a long trip, but also for cutting someone's head there was a particular symbol. The headhunters protected the rest of the tribe that lived in trees. They themselves lived on the ground and by the looks of their tattoos you could see what they did and what they have been through. Typical for this style are images of scorpions, flowers, dogs, dragons and spirals.

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Tattoos are almost as old as mankind. It is believed that the first tattooing happened accidentally, with people falling or stepping into pigment-carrying, sharp instruments or materials, like e.g. sharp, charcoaled branches from leftover fireplaces or wooden spears/arrowheads hardened in fire. This tends to leave trapped pigment in the dermis, such accidents are by the way the major reason for pigment removal research even in our days.

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It is easy to see why people would make the connection and survival of bad wounds may even have helped the magical or religious meaning of tattoos into existence The current first proven incident of a tattoo dates back 4,000 years B.C. a traveler was found in Italy near Austria, preserved in the permafrost of a glacier. Carbon dating and artifacts facts found near him suggest that he is over 5,300 years old. The skin bears a cross behind one knee and a series of lines above his kidneys. This has given rise to the speculation that the man was a shaman or otherwise holy member of his clan, as for millennia tattoos were reserved in many if not most cultures to members of the castes of priest or secret sects Ancient Egyptian mummies, as well as clay figurines bear tattoos, this dates to between 4,000 and 3,000 years old. The tattoos were applied by puncture with a needle or other sharp instrument steeped in pigment, much like the prisoner tattoos of later times. The practice traveled from Egypt across the world, Egypt - an empire with traffic into most countries it bordered - was in contact with Greece, Persia, Central Asia and Arabia and spread tattoos along the main merchant routes. From Southern China the practice spread along the silk route.

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The Ainu, western Asian nomads brought tattooing to Japan when they crossed over to the Japanese islands, for them tattoos firmly belong to the realm of religion and magic. The Japanese themselves rejected the religious meaning of tattoos, and turned towards the graphical and ornamental of the practice. To the day the technique and style of Japanese Tattooists stands out in design and craft. From Japan, tattoos spread to the Philippines and Pacific Islands. The Polynesians carried the tattoo culture across the Pacific Islands to New Zealand and are probably responsible for the largest dissemination of the practice.

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Their style still survives among the Maoris and the inhabitants of some of the Pacific Islands, strict regulations and ceremonies accompany the procedure. Tattooing traveled to America either via the large Polynesian migration, or across the northern land/ice bridge with Siberian tribes who learned tattooing from the Ainu. Mayas, Incas and Aztecs tattooed and the practice had an important role in their religious rituals. The fact that the European cadaver mentioned above is older than any Egyptian source may or may not put a different light on where tattoos originated, but the Iberians, who preceded the Celtic tribes, wore tattoos. The Gauls, Teutonic tribes, the Picts and Greek tattooed, the Romans branded or tattooed criminals and slaves. Invaders (Norseman, Saxons, etc.) brought more refined and artistic tattoos to the British Isles.

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It was usual for warriors and sailors to have their tribal symbols tattooed. This usage still survives with some aristocratic families. Pope Hadrian banned this as a barbaric custom in the 8th century. For roughly 4 centuries after that there was no mention of tattooing, and because of the interdiction ordained by Rome, the warriors remained un-Tattooed. After the Norman invasion there was little evidence of tattooing in Europe until much later. Captain Cook brought news of the practice and the word to Europe after seeing tattoos performed 1771 in Tahiti. Cook refers to the operation called "tattaw", using for the first time the word "tattawing", before tattooing has been called painting or staining.

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Meanings of Tattoos

          What is art?  Art is created by emotions, often represented by symbols to convey meaning.  What is a symbol? You may defines a symbol as, "a picture or image that tells a story without using words." It has been suggested that symbols, such as cave paintings and carvings, were man's earliest forms of communication. Tattoos are symbols and are known to define people’s deep passions, beliefs and identity. 

          We have many ways of modern communication in our present time; however, symbolism still plays a very significant role in our daily lives. Some symbols have deep significance to us or to others, depending on beliefs and personal lifestyle.  People endure the pain of getting a tattoo because it has significance or meaning. 

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          When looking for a tattoo design, the question of symbolism often comes into play. If you've wondered what the meanings are to many commonly seen designs, you're not alone. The world is full of symbols - ancient symbols, religious symbols, patriotic symbols, symbols of mourning and the list goes on. A popular trend in our day and age is getting various Chinese symbols tattooed.  When people look at it they may not understand the specific meaning as it is foreign, but the individual will always carry that special meaning within themselves.   A few other examples of tattoos and their meanings are the following:

-Portrait tattoos are usually created when someone is commemorating an honorary person.  In this category faces of rock stars find competition with young infants. 

-Religious tattoos show others what a person relation of God and Spirits is.  They also show others ones moral conduct, attitudes and beliefs. 

One of the greatest achievements of man has been that of writing. Today the human body has become a canvas that can carry messages to others proclaiming their morals, beliefs and social values

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          Many people may be interested in knowing the historic symbolism behind a particular picture, and sometimes we want to make sure we avoid designs that symbolize something we do not believe in or condone.   People get tattoos for their religious beliefs, their family, culture or history, their teams, tribes or spouses, their favorite sports, activities or for the art of it.  

          People frequently get tattoos during a special time in their life.  For an example, many people go through the ritual of getting a tattoo while on vacation.  It is widely known that many spring breakers paint up their bodies for life, as to remember that time, such as getting a souvenir.   


          Today, tattoos come in all shapes and sizes; in rare cases people have their entire skin consumed by ink. Getting tattoos has become a trend, as the legal age is 18 to get one, many teenagers rush at the moment.  Tattoos are extremely creative.  Individuals can design their own, or select anything in the world to put on their body.  Tattoos are works of art, as they are detailed, or simple, whatever a heart could desire.  In any case, tattoos now appeal to many people from all walks of life because they contain special meaning for individuals.  

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Captain Bret's Crew here at the Studio



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These designs, pictures, Photographs, JPG,s,Gifs, files, logos, Tattoos, images, content are used exclusively by Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc. and represents our company, they are our intellectual property 1981 All rights reserved.  All Tattoos By  Artist Captain Bret A. Lohnes 1981

NO commercial or non-commercial reproductions allowed or tolerated without valid license from Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc.

All designs and images/content/compilation herein are Copyright 1981.  Trade Mark-Service Mark protections exist. Said Copyright, Copyrights, Service Marks, Trade Marks may be filed, owned, by all, some, or individually by the following,  Bret A. Lohnes, Captain Bret's Tattoo Shop Inc. and
copyright 1981