The Western way with a tattoo machine isn’t the only way of getting inked. From the bamboo method in Thailand to the rake and striking technique from Samoa, there are many ways to get tattooed.
For thousands of years, humans have been tattooing each other. The art form can be traced back to 1200 B.C in China, where archaeologists have found ancient mummies with permanent ink.
The Smithsonian Magazine explains that the elaborate tattoos of the Polynesian cultures are thought to have developed over millennia. Further to this, after James Cook’s British expedition to Tahiti in 1769, the islanders’ term “tatatau” or “tattau,” meaning “to strike”, gave rise to the term “tattoo” in the west.
Taking this extensive history into account, there were ways to get inked way before the invention of the electric pen. Luckily, many of these methods haven’t been lost to history – there are artists that practice some traditional methods of tattooing.
Here are some methods of tattooing that are still being practiced and rival the standard electric pen method for creating intricate, eye-catching designs.
Ta Moko from Maori Culture
This method of tattooing involves using a bone chisel to create incisions in the skin, which is then filled with dark ash to create the design.
Getting this tattoo (Ta Moko was reserved for the face, while Kiri Tuhi references the Moari designs on the body) has a special symbolism, as explained by Zeeland Tattoo.
“Main Manawa lines are the skin looking lines in your Maori tattoo; ‘Manawa’ is the Maori word for ‘Heart’ and represents your Life, your life journey and your time spent on Earth. Main Korus coming off the Manawa Lines are used [to] represent people and people groups. Korus are based off the tiny new growth shoots on the New Zealand fern plant and represent new life and new beginnings.”
Zeeland Tattoo goes on by explaining that there are different line designs that represent different things: Unaunahi are fish scales that represent abundance and health; Ahu ahu mataroa lines show talent and achievement in athleticism.
Rake and Striking Stick Technique from Samoa
In this method, a needle is placed at a right angle on a stick to create the rake. While another person stretches your skin so that it’s taut, the needle of the rake is placed on the skin and hit with a stick to push the ink into the skin. Skilled artists in this form of tattooing can create intricate, striking designs.
This type of tattooing has a rich history and is extremely embedded into the culture of Samoa, so it’s important to understand the meanings behind these tattoos before getting inked.
As explained in the feature, How the Samoan Tattoo Survived Colonialism in Scientific American, “The pe‘a [traditional tattoos for men] is an important rite of passage in Samoan communities that grants a man adult status and the right to perform certain duties for the village chief.”
The malu is the traditional designs reserved for women, and also marks important aspects in a person’s life. “For example, tattooed women can serve ceremonial drinks or collect gifts at a funeral. Some women now get the malu to mark life events such as university graduation or a job promotion.”
Tebori Tattoos from Japan
According to the Smithsonian magazine, Japanese men started tattooing their bodies with elaborate designs in the late A.D. 3rd century.
Tebori tattoos definitely take the hand poking method to a new level – a level with multiple needles pushing into your skin all at once. The process involves the artist using a wooden or metal stick (or nomi) with a set of needles fastened to its tip to poke ink into the skin.
Bamboo Method from Thailand
This technique has become extremely popular in recent years, especially among travelers to Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia.
However, this art form dates back thousands of years when monks would tattoo designs with religious and spiritual meanings.
According to the feature, Getting A Bamboo Tattoo in Thailand | Advice From An Expert Artist on Panumart Tattoo, “Bamboo tattoos are simply tattoos made with the hand-poking technique. This technique comes from Thai history when monks performed sak yant tattoos like the ones you’ve seen on Muay Thai fighters or Angelina Jolie,” explains master bamboo tattoo artist from Panumart Tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
While getting a hand poked bamboo tattoo may seem like the perfect way to commemorate your travels, it’s important to think long term. “Let’s say you get a hah taew sak yant tattoo like Angelina Jolie, after 10 years the one from a machine is still readable while the one from bamboo will probably not be.”
The artist goes on to say that color bamboo tattoos fade faster than color tattoos done by a machine – this is because it’s at times difficult for an artist to generate enough speed and power to go deep enough into the skin.
Fun fact: Bamboo isn’t actually used in this method of tattooing. This hand poked process involves placing needles at the end of a long metal or wooden pole
You don’t just have to focus on permanent tattoos – there are a variety of ways to experiment with tattoos without lasting implications.
DIY Temporary Tattoo Alternatives
If you’re not in the market for permanent ink just yet, or maybe there is a special occasion you’d like to be tatted for, there are multiple ways to have fun with temporary tattoos.
Temporary, stick on tattoos aren’t just for kids – there are a lot of adult styles that you can experiment with. This is ideal if you’re not ready commit to a particular style yet, and want to change things up.
If you’ve got some creativity that’s ready to be released, you may want to try tattoo pens. With these nifty pens, you can doodle on your own skin, pain free and impermanent.
Something that has definitely been at the forefront of festival trends is gold leaf tattoos. You don’t have to wait until the next outdoor party to play around with this type of temporary tattoo – they’re a great way to add some sparkle to your look, plus gold goes with almost everything!
If you’re looking for a different way to get your next tattoo, without the standard electric machine, there are many options to choose from. Do your research, find your ideal artist and have an alternative tattoo experience.