50+ Amazing Tribal Tattoo Designs That You Will Love

By Jason Hamilton / April 30, 2018
Upper Back Tribal Tattoos
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Tribal motifs dominated arts and culture for centuries, if not millennia. Not long after, they have also dominated the skins of powerful men to signify their status, power, and influence within the community. Their interweaving and interlocking designs made tribal tattoos even more daunting and thus also made the wearer be feared and honored in their society. In other cultures, having a tribal tattoo signifies a boy has turned into a full-fledged man. It is an initiation right that all boys must face when they are coming of age. The pain of having a large tribal tattoo be inked on your body must be felt by all boys in some cultures. This is the reason as to why tribal tattoo design still has a significant foothold from then until now. It has been deeply ingrained in our united culture as a human race that it would be foolish to not have it as an option for a tattoo design.

In this article, we will be sharing with you a background in tribal tattoo design. We will be discussing with you a brief history of tribal tattoos and how it is interwoven in our past and current cultures. We will also give you the meaning of this tattoo design as well as the perfect design and body placement for both men and women.


The Origins of Tribal Tattoos

It is quite undeniable that tribal tattoo designs are considered one of the, if not, oldest tattoo design in existence. It has existed almost the same time when early human beings formed groups and tribes to live together and share their strife to survive on our once savage planet. Each group of people has their own design of tribal tattoos to signify their tribe of origin and to differentiate a friend from a foe. These designs would then morph to fit in our modern society; a society that aims to relinquish the idea of “friend or foe”.


A Brief History of Tribal Tattoos

Since tribal tattoo designs are the earliest tattoo design in existence, their history is also the same for the entire tattoo industry as well.

Preserved tattoos on ancient mummified human remains reveal that tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for many centuries.  The Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan, traditionally had facial tattoos, as did the Austroasians. Today, one can find Atayal, Seediq, Truku, and Saisiyat of Taiwan, Berbers of Tamazgha (North Africa), Yoruba, Fulani and Hausa people of Nigeria, and Māori of New Zealand with facial tattoos. Tattooing was popular among certain ethnic groups in southern China, Polynesia, Africa, Borneo, Cambodia, Europe, Prehistoric Age Japan (Ainu People), the Mentawai Islands, Mesoamerica, New Zealand, North America and South America, and many more locations around the world.


Tribal Tattoos as Social Class Marker

People with influential social status wore tattoos which were big in size while smaller tattoos implied lower social stature. They were used as an identification mark in certain ancient tribes, with these marks being used to identify the members of the clan in life and after death. Moreover, tribal tattoos had a story to tell, with images of animals, warriors and natural forces being featured in them to throw light on an event in the life of the bearer.

Interesting Facts About Tribal Tattoos

1. African body art was once used as a talisman or ward to protect the wearer from harm. The images that you include in your tribal tattoos could reference some of these ancient practices. It can‘t possibly hurt to add a little bit of extra karmic shielding!


2. Tribal tattoos in most cultures were not simply designed for aesthetic purposes. Instead, the entire tattooing process was intended to allow the recipient to transcend into almost a supernatural state of being. In some societies, tattooing, also known as scarification, was thought to make the wearer more than human. The tribal designs included in many modern tattoos reference this desire to appear god-like.

3. Tribal tattoos often signify the courage and bravery of the person who wears them. This does not seem so far-fetched today, as many tattoo ideas are born of personal tragedy and victory over difficulty. The same tenets hold true today as they did during ancient times; some measure of bravery is required in order to suffer through a massive tribal tattoo piece.


4. The first tribal tattoos in Africa were found upon mummies that were buried in about 2000 B.C., according to historians. Egyptian High Priestesses were known to adorn themselves with tattoos, particularly upon their arms. When you choose a tattoo idea or tribal tattoo design, you could be linking yourself to 4,000 years‘ worth of human history, a heady thought.

5. It may seem difficult to tattoo darker skin, but African tribal artists had a solution that would allow their clients to receive visible marks. This process, known as cicatrization, involved cutting open the skin and rubbing ash into the wounds. Luckily, we do not have to use this process any longer thanks to modern tattooing technology!


Tribal Tattoos On Men

Originally, only men of power and stature get a tattoo in a tribe because early human society is a patriarchal one (patriarchal = male-dominated society) and one could also argue that even today’s society still follows patriarchy. This has also transcended to the modern body art industry. If one could only notice, the tattoo artists and enthusiast numbers are dominated by men. This is the reason why most tribal tattoo designs are masculine in nature. Well, there are feminine or unisexual tribal tattoo designs out there but the majority of these tribal tattoos are masculine in design.

Tribal Tattoo Designs For Men

Most tribal tattoo designs that dominate today’s body art industry came from, if not inspired by, traditional Polynesian tattoos. This tattoo design is classified by its highly intricate lines and imagery that is present in every tattoo. Here are some of the tribal tattoo designs we have seen on the internet.

Maori Tattoo (Kiri Tuhi)

Kiri means Skin and Tuhi means Art. Generally, they tattoo the body and arm areas so it will be defined as Kiri Tuhi rather than Ta Moko was reserved for the face only.

All Maori design is made up of a number of essential design elements.

1. Pakati

Dog skin cloak, representative of warriors/battles/courage and strength.

2. Hikuaua

A representative of Taranaki (a region of New Zealand) as well as prosperity, mackerel tail.


3. Unaunahi

Fish scales that represent abundance and health.

4. Ahu ahu mataroa

Shows talent and achievement in athleticism or sport and can also be representative of a new challenge.


5. Taratarekae

From whale teeth

Here are some images of Maori tattoo designs we saw on the web

1. A large full sleeve and chest tattoo of traditional Maori imagery and patterns.


2. Another full sleeve and chest tattoo of traditional Maori patterns with modern tribal influences.

3. Another full sleeve and chest tattoo of Maori imagery and patterns.

4. A colored sleeve tattoo of traditional Maori patterns often used in Maori art.


5. A bicep tattoo of Maori patterns.

6. An arm tattoo of traditional Maori imagery and patterns.


Samoan Tattoos

Samoa is one of the many islands around a subregion of Oceania collectively referred to as Polynesia. Islands around Polynesia share similar language, culture and beliefs, hence Samoan tattoos can also be referred to as Polynesian tattoos.

Here are some images of Samoan tattoo designs:

1. A chest and sleeve tattoo of a Samoan motif.

2. A lower body tattoo of traditional Samoan patterns.

Tribal Tattoo Samoan Chest Lower Body


3. A half sleeve tattoo of traditional Samoan patterns.

Tribal Tattoo Samoan Sleeve


4. An arm tattoo of traditional Samoan imagery.

How Painful Is The Tattooing Process?

A lot of people who want to have this tattoo design would also want to have it inked the traditional way despite the existence of modern electronic tattooing machines.

The process of hand tap tattooing is laborious and yes, painful, very painful. This can be attributed to the intricate designs of tribal tattoos and since hand tap tattooing is a long long process, it adds to the pain, unlike modern tattooing machines where inches of tattoos can be achieved within minutes.

The permanent marks left on someone after they have been tattooed would forever remember and commemorate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. The pain was extreme and the risk of death by infection was a huge concern for many people.

Tribal Tattoo Designs For All

Though we have said that tribal tattoos are often dominated by masculine designs, there are also other designs that will definitely fit for all genders.

Here are some designs  we have seen on the web that might interest you:

Tribal Wolf Tattoos

Tribal wolf tattoos are tattoos of wolves with tribal patterns in its body. This tattoo design is especially famous for men and women who want to exhibit power and strength. While wolf tattoos in particular already show a lot when it comes to power, its meaning and symbolism are often emphasized when combined with tribal imagery and patterns.

To know more about tribal wolf tattoos, see our tribal wolf tattoo article here.

Here are some images of tribal wolf tattoos taken from our own gallery of images.

1. A medium sized ankle tattoo of a tribal wolf in a howling position.


2. A leg tattoo of a tribal wolf with a wolf paw.

3. A tattoo of a tribal wolf in a howling position.

4. A tattoo of a wolf’s face with tribal patterns.

Tribal Wolf Chest Tattoo 4


5. A green watercolor leg tattoo of a tribal wolf.

6. A back tattoo of a tribal wolf looking to a crescent moon.


Tribal Octopus Tattoo

This particular tattoo design is considered unique. Octopuses are often not portrayed in tribal fashion because they considered as soft beings or non-powerful creatures. Contrary to this perception, however, is the fact that octopuses are one of the top predators of the sea which means that despite their soft bodies, they are fierce and ready to partake in competition.

Here are some images of tribal octopus tattoos we have seen on the internet.

1. A back tattoo of a tribal octopus.


2. A ribcage tattoo of an octopus with thick outlines and an intricate tribal pattern.

3. A shoulder to sleeve tattoo of a tribal octopus with its tentacles extending to the sleeves.

4. A tribal tattoo of the Kraken. (Yes, we know the Kraken is not an octopus. Or is it?)


These are just a few of the designs that incorporated tribal imagery with other tattoo designs. We are pretty darn sure that other designs are out there that will interest you to have a tribal tattoo.

The Perfect Body Placement For Tribal Tattoos

Since tribal tattoos are often just patterns and old imagery, tribal tattoo designs can be inked in any part of the skin and in any orientation. This kind of flexibility made tribal tattoo designs famous in the modern age where enthusiasts and tattoo artists alike want to have a tattoo design that is not picky when it comes to body placement.

If you are looking for a tribal tattoo that is infused with other imagery, however, most of these tattoos are located on the limbs (arms, shoulders, sleeves, thighs, legs), back, and chest areas since these locations provide the largest amount of skin space and these are often visible to other people.

Other Tribal Tattoo Design Images You Will Love

Here are other tribal tattoo designs that heavily featured tribal imagery and patterns.

A large arm sleeve tattoo of Maori-inspired tribal patterns.

A large back and sleeve tattoo of a modern tribal pattern.


An upper back tattoo of a tribal bird.

A larhe chest tattoo of traditional polynesian tribal pattern mirrored in both pectorals.

A chest tattoo that was inspired by Maui’s tattoos, a character in Disney’s 2016 film, Moana.

A chest to sleeve tribal pattern tattoo.

A large torso tattoo depicting traditional Hawaiian imagery and patterns which is usually found as tattoos in indigenous Hawaiian people.

A half sleeve and chest tattoo of tribal patterns with art deco inspiration.

A half sleeve tattoo of various tribal patterns.

A sleeve tattoo of traditional Polynesian patterns.

A sleeve tattoo of traditional Native American tribal patterns and imagery.

A lower body tattoo of traditional tribal Polynesian pattern and imagery.

A full sleeve modern tribal tattoo with futuristic details.

A nape tattoo of tribal patterns with art deco influences.

A traditional polynesian tribal tattoo on the sleeves area.

A modern swirly tribal tattoo on the shoulder.

A sleeve tattoo with traditional Native American patterns.

Tribal Tattoo Sleeve Polynesia 2

A sleeve chest and shoulder tattoo of tribal patterns with art deco influences.

Tribal Tattoo Sleeve Polynesia

A colored sleeve tattoo of a modern tribal pattern.

A hand to wrist tattoo of traditional tribal Thai patterns and imagery.

An upper back tattoo that features tribal patterns.

An upperback tattoo of a tribal pattern with wings and imagery.

A back tattoo of a Viking snake in tribal fashion.


A hand tattoo of an intricate tribal pattern.


tribal tattoo hands

A wrist tattoo of a tribal pattern armband.

tribal tattoo wrists

A tribal sleeve tattoo.

tribal tattoo sleeve 4

A tribal shoulder tattoo that is slightly bohemian in nature.

tribal tattoo shoulder 2

A sleeve tattoo of a tribal pattern from the Maori people.

tribal tattoo polynesian 2

An upper back tattoo of a horse head in tribal pattern.

tribal tattoo horse head

A tribal tattoo of an eagle holding a snake inked on the shoulder.

tribal tattoo eagle

A large chest tattoo of tribal patterns from various polynesian countries.

tribal tattoo chest 3

A tattoo design idea that features a black panther in tribal form.

Black Panther Tribal Tattoo Design

A colored back tattoo of an tribal tattoo inspired by Aztec imagery.

tribal tattoo aztec back

An upper back tattoo of a tribal cross.

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About the author

Jason Hamilton

Jason has been an avid fan of tattoos for over 13 years now. He is currently 35 years old, and he got his first tattoo at the age of 22. Since then, he has added over 20 tattoos to his collection. He is also into writing, which is why he decided to celebrate both of his passion and hobby through tats ‘n’ rings. Jason dreams of having his very own tattoo parlor soon. Jason would be very happy to answer any questions about tattoos that you may have! Leave a comment below and he’ll answer it for you right away!

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