American Indian Tattoos

Mandan American Indian with Tattoos

American Indian Tattoos

The above picture is of a Native American Indian Chief called Abdih-Hiddisch, which translates as "Road-Maker". He belonged to the Mandan tribe of American Indians, a Great Plains, which also had strong tribal connections with the Arikara and Hidatsa people.

The painting is by Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) and it clearly depicts  tattoos on the chest, right arm and hand of the Native Indian together with additional tattoos on his neck and face. In Pawnee mythology the Creator god, Tirawa, was believed to have taught the Pawnee people the art of tattooing.

American Indian Tattoos - Tribal Tattoos and Symbols
Many American Indian tribes used tribal tattoos and, just like the mysterious symbols they used, the designs of the tattoos would convey secret messages to other tribe members identifying specific clan members. Some American Indian tattoo designs were specific to individual families and passed down from one generation to another. Many American Indian tattoos were spiritual in nature and conveyed ideas about their religion and beliefs. Native American symbols are often designs conveying geometric portrayals of celestial bodies, natural phenomena and animal designs. The following Native American Symbols offer some ideas of tattoo designs that convey specific meanings. The beauty of of these ideas for designs of American Indian Tattoos are in their simplicity and their symbolism.

Refer to the Picture Dictionary of Symbols for ideas for tattoos

American Indian Tattoos - Totems and Tattoos
A totem was a common emblem or symbol consisting of the figure of an animal, bird, or reptile - refer to Power Animals. The totem was a symbol of identification that formed the distinguishing mark of tribes or clans. The totem served the same purpose to the Native Americans as the family name in Western culture. The turtle, tortoise, bear, beaver and the wolf were the totems of the "first families" reflecting their social prestige. The figure representing the totem of the Native American tribe was sometimes tattooed upon the breast of the Indian. The spirit of the animal was believed to favor the clan it represented in the tattoo - refer to Animal Totems

American Indian Tattoos - Ideas from Pictures
If you are looking for inspiration and ideas for unusual depictions of Native American Indians as tattoos refer to our gallery containing authentic Pictures of the Native Americans of most of the Indian tribes. The pictures consist of paintings by famous artists such as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer who were motivated in the 1800's to capture the essence of the indigenous population in their natural environments and conveying their images and lifestyles before they were inevitably and irrevocably changed by the white Europeans.

Significance of American Indian Tattoos
The significance of different designs of American Indian tattoos varied as did the reasons for adopting tattoo traditions. the significance and reasons for adorning American Indian tattoos on the face and body are detailed on the following list.

  • Rites of Passage Tattoos: American Indian tattoos might be symbolic marking an important event in a person's progress in life from one status to another, coming of age or a initiation which was often accompanied by ceremonies
  • Identification Tattoos: Traditional American Indian tattoos indicating an affiliation to a specific clan or tribe
  • Intimidation Tattoos: American Indian tattoos to intimidate enemies
  • Marks of status & rank: American Indian tattoos marking rank or status such as a Medicine Man
  • Religious & Spiritual Tattoos: American Indian tattoos conveying highly symbolic spiritual and religious beliefs
  • Marks of Distinction & Honor: American Indian tattoos marking Distinction and Honor indicating special achievements and success in battle
  • Power, Magic & Protection Tattoos: It was believed that the application of certain symbols and colors afforded the wearer with 'Magic' for power and protection by drawing on natural powers and combining these with the power of the warrior. Tattoos and designs included included stripes, circles and triangles
  • Decoration Tattoos: An American Indian Tattoo was occasionally used by both Indian men and women as decoration

American Indian Tattoos - Dyes and Pigments
The dyes and pigments used for American Indian Tattoos

  • Black Tattoos: Natural black dyes and pigments used in American Indian Tattoos were achieved by the application of soot or bone char, or bone black which was an animal charcoal produced by charring animal bones

  • Brown / Reddish Tattoos: Natural brown / reddish dyes and pigments used in American Indian Tattoos were achieved by the application of ochre mixed with clay

  • Blue Tattoos: Natural blue dyes and pigments used in American Indian Tattoos were achieved by the application of indigo, a dye that was plentiful in North America

American Indian Tattoos - Tattooing Methods
The methods used in the application of American Indian tattoos were quite primitive and could often be painful. The pain involved in the creation of tattoos was seen as an important aspect of the process emphasizing the stoic resolve of Indians and the reaction to and endurance of pain.  Many tribes believed that pain brought a closer association to the spirits and gods. Some tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and then rubbing the wound with dye. Other tribal cultures created tattoos by hand-tapping or hand-pricking the dye into the skin using sharp stone needles or animal bones - refer to Stone Tools. The Inuit tribes made needle punctures through which a thread coated with a dye or pigment (usually soot) was drawn beneath the skin.

Native American Symbols
Animal Totems
Native Indian Tribes Index

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