American Indian Tattoos

American Indian with Tattoos

Mandan American Indian with Tattoos

Discover facts and information about American Indian Tattoos and gain some inspiration and ideas for tattoos from original pictures of native American Indians and the tribal symbols that they used.

Understand the significance of Native American pictures via our List of Symbols. Gain an insight into the American Indian Tattoos and the secret and mysterious symbols used by Native American Indians.

Native American SymbolsAnimal Totems
Native Indian Tribes Index

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.

4 ages of Man Symbol - Native American SymbolsSun SymbolsTurtle Symbol

Refer to the Picture Dictionary of Symbols for more 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 chart.

Reasons and Significance of American Indian Tattoos

 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

Reasons and Significance of American Indian Tattoos

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.

American Indian Tattoos - Ideas from the Ancients
The most ancient Native American Indian symbols  came from the Mississippian culture which was established in by Mississippian Native Americans who were the last of the mound-building cultures of North America in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States. Their culture was was based on warfare, and represented by an array of emblems, motifs and symbols that provide interesting ideas for tattoos.


American Indian Tattoos and War Paint
Native American Indian tribes are well known for their use of War Paint which was used as a temporary reflection of important events in their lives, even their horses were adorned with various designs and symbols as described in the article on Horse War Paint. American Indian tattoos were far more serious than war paint as their designs and meanings were permanent. American Indian tattoos were another form of non-verbal communication methods used by Native American Indians. Other examples of non-verbal communication methods included:

Native American Indian Symbols
Indian Sign Language
Smoke Signals

American Indian Tattoos

  • American Indian Tattoos and designs
  • Meaning, symbolism and interpretation of the American Indian Tattoos  and symbols
  • Interesting facts and info about the history of American Indian Tattoos and designs
  • Pictures for American Indian Tattoos and ideas for designs
  • Native American Indian Tattoos with ideas and designs

Pictures and Videos of Native Americans
American Indian Tattoos. Discover the vast selection of pictures which relate to the History of Native Americans and illustrate many decorations and tattoos used by American Indians. The pictures show the clothing, tattoos, war paint, weapons and decorations of various Native Indian tribes that can be used as a really useful educational history resource for kids and children of all ages. We have included pictures to accompany the main topic of this section - American Indian Tattoos. The videos enable fast access to the images, paintings and pictures together with information and many historical facts. All of the articles and pages can be accessed via the Native Indian Tribes Index.


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