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The Art of Tattooing

Tattooing is a diverse art form that has evolved from centuries-old sacred cultural traditions. There has even been evidence found of tattoos from pre-historic times. Various cultures practiced the art of tattooing, including but not limited to: Polynesians, Japanese, Indians, Persians, African tribes as well as Celtic and other pre-Christian European tribes. Unfortunately, as cultural traditions become more mainstream, some people forget their sacred origins as the traditions often become distorted by people who spread it throughout society without even understanding its essence. This is one of the reasons why learning about history is so important; when we understand the origins of cultural traditions, we can ensure its’ evolution from a place of respect.

Many tribes used tattoos as a way to easily distinguish a community member from a stranger. In pre-Spaniard colonization of the Philippine islands, tattooing was used to symbolize rank and accomplishments. Samoa has some of the most intricate tools, techniques, and rituals for tattooing and their traditions have changed little in the last 2,000 years! In Japan, tattooing was born out of spiritual and decorative purposes, but between 1720-1870, it was looked down upon because tattooing began to be used as a form of criminal punishment.

Source: samoan tattoo tools- vanishingtattoo.com


I remember when I got my first tattoo- two mermaids swimming in a circle in opposite directions- symbolizing my astrological sign, Pisces. I had just turned 18 so my dad was very angry and told me that everyone would think I had been to prison. I knew he was referring to the fact that many Latino gang members were tattooed and that everyone would just assume that I was another gang member. I responded that tattoos weren’t looked down upon like that anymore. It was the late 90s in the San Francisco Bay Area, and although it definitely was not as widespread as tattoos are now (where you can now watch reality shows based on this art form), you could definitely see a lot more people with artistic tattoos decorating their skin, not just gang members.


My most recent tattoo (I still need to get it shaded or colored as this is just the outline) is of a phoenix, a mythical creature which represents rebirth, perseverance, resurrection. Tattoo artist: Jose Allyman


I am 33 years old now, have a total of 10 tattoos, and I do not regret a single one. I put a lot of thought and did a lot of research into each and every tattoo that I have. They all represent something meaningful to me about who I am as well as values and principles I strive to live by. Some people who get tattoos may not be aware of its’ ancient & diverse cultural origins, so maybe if you share this article, you can help spread some valuable knowledge about where this art form originates from and the importance of putting some thought into a tattoo you might be thinking of getting- after all, it will be on your body for the rest of your life.


Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment.