What kind of people want tattoos

Cultural history: why people get tattooed

For thousands of years people have been decorating their bodies with patterns and pictures. A story about the changes in this custom

Tattoos have been around since the Stone Age

The art of tattooing was already known to the people of the Stone Age. Egyptian priestesses adorned themselves with it, the Romans marked slaves and criminals in this way. Archaeologists found Indian mummies in South America, the skin of which had ornate patterns.

With the Dayak on the island of Borneo, every warrior had his hand tattooed after he had killed an enemy - a kind of medal on the skin. Women wore special marks when they could weave fabrics, for example. That improved their chances of getting married.

The indigenous people of New Zealand hold their "Moko", as the Maori call their ornate flourishes, sacred. Each family has its own patterns and figures. They tell the story of the ancestors, explain the tribal affiliation and the reputation of the individual moko wearers.

For some Maori, a tattoo is something like an identity card, birth certificate and family album combined.

In the past, tattoos were widespread among many peoples of Europe, until Pope Hadrian I banned them in the Middle Ages and this type of body jewelry was forgotten in many places.

"Artfully hammered"

1000 years later, European seafarers were amazed when they came across painted people in the South Seas. The Englishman James Cook didn't just bring one of these oddly patterned men home with him in 1774.

Cook had also learned on the island of Tahiti how this art was called there: "tatau" - from which "tattoo" in English and "tattoo" in German. It means "artfully hammering".

Quickly stabbed

That fits. Because in contrast to lipstick or eye shadow, a tattoo is not painted on, but rather in the skin. That's why it lasts a lifetime. However, modern tattoo studios do not hammer, but prick.

At the tip of a pistol-shaped device are needles that move up and down at breakneck speed - like a sewing machine - and in the process inoculate droplets of paint under the skin. That hurts a lot and leaves a wound that takes a month or so to heal.

But that's not all: some of the colors are considered harmful to health, some are even said to contain carcinogenic substances. This can also affect the "weakened" variant: tattoos with henna that are only painted on and fade again after a few weeks.

Nevertheless: tattooing is "in"

All of this frightens less and less people. While James Cook had to go to the South Seas to marvel at tattooed bodies, today all you have to do is go outside: around four million people in Germany have already had their tattoos. Tattooing is hard in fashion!

But no fashion lasts forever. You can discard an old sweater at some point. But the signs in the skin? With a lot of effort and for even more money, the old paint can be "shot away" with a laser beam. If you are lucky, you won't even get a scar in the end.