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Forefathers of Tattoos – The European Sailors

Forefathers of Tattoos – The European Sailors

In the year 1769, James Cook’s crew made their first voyage to the southern seas. It has been heard that some of the sailors of the crew decorated their bodies by some natives of Tahiti, to make their venture into a foreign and strange culture a memorable one. These sailors were the first to bring this body art, which used to be known as ‘Tataus’, a native rite, as a fashion trend to Europe. The beginning of tattoos included only tribal symbols.

Gradually in the 18th century the practice of tattoo was well spread mostly among the sailors. The British navy is said to implement new patterns of tattoos.

In the book “Journey Around The World” (1805) by the Russian admiral Krusenstern, it has been mentioned that all the sailors in his crew used to get tattooed when they were in sea. You will be surprised to know that then the tattooing was so popular, as if tattooing was a must for all the sailors. So when any tattoo artist was brought to the ship, he hardly would manage all the sailors to get tattooed. You know, even Samuel O’Reilly mentioned that “A Sailor Without A Tattoo Is Like A Ship Without Grog: Unseaworthy.”

Then, most of the tattoos on the sailors were designed by the natives only. Gradually, the native tribal symbols amalgamated with the European designs. The European designs usually included images of Palm Trees, Exotic Birds, Ships, Anchors, Pin-Ups or Light Houses. These were the memories of their visits to the southern seas. These marine designs held different significance for every individual carrying the tattoo. Each design depicts a relation with the sailor’s motherland, people staying there. To few, the specially designed tattoos meant to be their good luck charm. Whereas, these design in today’s world are considered to be as old traditional tattoos.

The sailors gradually tried to master the art of tattooing. They used to practice tattooing on their ships, shore laves and also on others. This was the reason why, most of the professional tattoo shops were established on or near the sea ports all over the world. The tattoo shops were mostly owned by former sailors. They used to do tattoo on others in the old native way only as there were no alternatives – A tattoo comb was made of bones and tusks, which was attached to a wooden stick, dipped in ink. It was then pushed into the skin to form the tattoos. At last in the year 1891 Samuel O’Reilly made it easier for the tattoo artists, by inventing the electromechanical tattoo machine.