Etymologically, the word tattoo is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’ which means ‘to mark’. The history of the tattoo around the world is diverse, colourful and varied. In general, tattooing can be defined as inserting colored material beneath the skin surface. Perhaps, tattooing was discovered accidentally, when someone rubbed scars with warm ash as a healing method. When the skin heals, the dark mark became a permanent feature of their skin. In Europe, Greek and Roman chroniclers reported tattooing, but it is likely that the practice began during the last Great Ice age.
The preserved body of Otzi the Iceman may prove that the practice of tattooing took place 5,000 years ago. Clay statues in Japan which depict humanoid shape with marks that may represent tattoos are believed to be approximately 10,000 years ago. Female mummies from the era of ancient Egypt show tattoos on specific body parts, such as stomach and thighs and it is believed that these are likely fertility symbols.
The Stigma of the Tattoo as Old as the Practice Itself
Despite their initial cultural and religious significance and their history which dates back to early man, it appears that a stigma was placed upon people who wore tattoos. In fact, ‘stigma’ is the Latin word for tattoo. During the era of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, tattoos were used to mark slaves and criminals. People who were caught stealing would be tattooed to give a permanent mark of a criminal. The spread of Christianity in Europe discouraged the use of tattoos and the practice was eventually prohibited by Pope Hadrian I. In the mid-20th century, tattoos were prominent among members of crime organizations, especially biker gangs in the US and the Yakuza in Japan. Convicts in modern penal systems are often identified by tattoos covering their entire body.
Tattoos Gaining in Popularity and Acceptance
Regardless of these facts, the art of the tattoo has begun to gain mainstream acceptance over the past a few decades. Although it’s not still seen as a positive aspect in some cultures, respected members of the society, including celebrities, soldiers and athletes, often have tattoos as a reminder of their experience and sense of brotherhood with fellow members in their units. Today, it is becoming more popular and much easier to get a tattoo. It’s probably still a long way for tattoos until get real acceptance, but they are no longer associated with criminal activities and the undesirable parts of society.
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