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Tag Archives: tribal tattoos

Why Tattooing Is Universal

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Maori face paint (Ralph Orlowski/Reuters) A National Geographic photographer explains why many cultures view the body as a blank canvas. OLGA KHAZAN ORIGINAL ARTICLE FOUND HERE ASPEN, Colo.—Tattooing, when you think about it, is like smiling: Nearly every culture does it, but not always for the same reason. In a given society, the motivation for covering oneself in paint, ink, or even scars speaks to what the civilization as a whole holds dear. Chris Rainier, a photographer for National Geographic and other publications, has traveled the world in search of cultures he describes as having “one foot in the Garden of Eden.” (He was also Ansel Adams’s last assistant). Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is organized jointly by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute, he explained how “many cultures around the world believe that the body is a canvas waiting for a story to be told.” From New Zealand’s Maori people to Angeleno gangsters, most cultures incorporate some form of tattooing. But “where the skin is too dark to tattoo, there is scarification,” Rainier said. When he would visit African societies that practice scarification, and he would ask locals who they thought was the most beautiful woman or the most handsome man, they would inevitably point to the most scarred. (Note: Rainier’s images are copyrighted, but you can view them at his website.) The leader of a Turkana cattle kraal shows his traditional scars. (Siegfried Modola/Reuters) Often, body modifications go beyond vanity, reflecting a necessary part of the transition to adulthood. He photographed one group of Papua New ... Read More »

Joe Larralde: Polynesian Tattooing in the Pacific Northwest

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By Joe Larralde Polynesian tattooing is alive and well here in the Pacific Northwest. Washington and Oregon have long been a hub for Hawaiian and other people of Pacific-island descent. Portland in particular has a large and ever growing population, and fortunately for me they are seeking out their roots when choosing their tattoos… Read More »

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