Tattoo History

Tattooed girl sitting with another girl

When deciding whether to get a tattoo or not, it is important to look back in time. Discovering where the art form came from or why it began can be helpful not only in the early decision process, but also in choosing the tattoo itself.

The word tattoo comes from the Samoan word “tatau” and means open wound. The word also derives from the Polynesian “hahau,” (to strike or pierce), or the Tahitian “tatau” (to mark something). Together, our basic definition of tattoos is formed: an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin.

For many years, tattoos were ignored by historians; most likely due to the negative connotations connected with them. More recently, the art form has been explored in the contexts of historic record. While it may not be relevant to each individual considering a tattoo, here are some facts that may be of interest.

Cultural Contexts