Each Tribal tattoo idea tells of ancestors or invokes powerful symbolic meaning for the wearer’s individual personality, their tribe and larger society.
From a microscopic Polynesian Island to the jungles of South America, tribal tattoos denote strength and protection, pride, power, and the representation of culture.
The dramatic Maori tattoos, known as Ta Moko – worn from head to toe – were badges of honor bestowed upon only the fiercest of men and women. Native Americans believed that by tattooing one’s spirit animal onto their flesh they were evoking and internalizing the powers of that creature. On a Pacific Island or in Asian cultures tattoos were intended to honor a man or woman’s family and to instill the lessons of their mentors.
Before you head to the tattoo shop get insights to aid you in choosing your next tattoo with 53 of the best tribal tattoo pattern ideas.
Awesome Tribal Tattoo Ideas
This striking tattoo incorporates aspects of traditional Maori tribal tattoos (notice the geometric designs on the upper leg and down the side) with large swaths of saturated black space to create a fearsome leg sleeve. The negative space that allows the knee to show through creates an interesting dynamic while the way the shapes follow the natural lines of the calf highlight the musculature of the leg. The deep, solid black on the top of the foot also displays the wearer’s dedication to the piece as this is a very sensitive place to have such deep color work done.
This is an incredible tattoo that represents hundreds of hours of painstaking work. A traditional Maori tattoo-possibly applied in the customary Ta Moko process of chiseling out the skin and adding ink to the wound or simply a Maori style tattoo known as a Kirituhi-this full chest and double sleeve piece is impressive. The level of detail in the intricate and symmetrical design is a testament to the patience and fortitude of the artist as well as the wearer. These tattoos, originally given to fierce warriors, still hold connotations of power and strength with their stunning detail and size.
This interesting hand tattoo incorporates tribal elements, but from a different part of the world. This piece uses the style of the Native American Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The negative space used in this style, traditionally created by burning pieces of cedar and adding natural pigments, transfers well to tattoos, and this is a good example. Possibly some spirit or character from a story, this interesting piece stands out for its stark contrast and bold placement and looks to be a part of a larger full sleeve design.
This impressive piece also uses traditional Maori elements to create a beautiful tattoo. In traditional Ta Moko pieces an ancestral story is told, and here we see different symbols incorporated into the piece. On the shoulder a stylized fish hook has been used and a sea turtle is placed over the pectoral. While tattoos are unique and personal, we can speculate that the wearer has a deep connection to the ocean and the power of the natural world. The intricate details and expert application make this a tattoo that is sure to turn heads.
This interesting piece takes elements of Maori design and incorporates some newer, Western styles. Negative space is used to great effect to create a different aesthetic from other, more traditional Maori designs. This half-sleeve still uses the geometric designs and spirals that Maori designs are known for as a background, allowing the negative space to pop and leaving no doubt of the inspiration for this piece. This fusion of old and new is becoming a popular style and allows the wearer to create a more personalized, meaningful piece.
This half body piece is a great example of the tribal tattoos that were popular in the early 2000’s. This piece looks well done, with deeply saturated black and a clever use of the body’s existing lines and musculature to create a dynamic piece. While this style has fallen out of favor in recent years, there is no doubt about the impact and influence of these tattoos on the community of artists and enthusiasts: this style brought “tribal” to the modern tattoo world.
This is a detailed tattoo that incorporates traditional Maori elements while using some more modern stylistic aspects to make an interesting piece. The level of intricacy on the concentric circles of alternating patterns helps creates a dynamic piece. The use of negative space for the spirals adds an additional layer of depth that contrasts nicely with the detailed patterns. This piece also makes use of the natural shape of the shoulder and upper back to complete this unique tattoo.
Here is another tattoo that uses several different elements from numerous tribal styles to create a large and interesting full back piece. The layered, geometric patterns take their cues from Maori and Polynesian tribe designs, while the flower surrounded by negative space is reminiscent of the flower of life, a common image in sacred geometry. The top of the piece uses negative space to evoke the body of a snake which is a key aspect of many Mayan and Mesoamerican traditions. This tattoo is impressive for its size as well as for the detail of the patterns.
Here is a tattoo that came straight out from a flash sheet from 2005. The use of spiral and filigree to create the dragon incorporates some of the early tribal tattoos and despite being dated, the line work is clean and even and the black is well saturated. Good execution by a talented artist helps to redeem a common design that is no longer as hip as it once was.
This tattoo takes elements of modern tribal tattoos to create an interesting piece. The bold, black shapes and use of negative space work well together, and the abstract design is reminiscent of postmodern art. The tattoo also takes advantage of the body’s lines: bold black shapes meet and close out at the inside elbow, and the piece ends with a stylized band at the wrist. This is a unique tattoo that stands out from other tribal pieces in the way it favors a modern aesthetic over traditional designs.
This tribal tattoo design, placed on the back of the calf, takes cues from Samoan Tribal Tattoo and Pacific Island tiki designs. The use of black and negative space to create the image of two faces in profile and one forward facing is an interesting concept that could represent some deity or character from a traditional story. While the overall design is interesting, some of the technical aspects of the tattoo are lacking. Uneven lines-most noticeable at the bottom of the tattoo where the spirals are not mirrored correctly-detract from the overall image.
This is an interesting piece that takes many different styles and fuses them into one, unique tattoo. There appear to be some elements of Southwest Native American art: the star-like images on the shoulder and bicep as well as the geometric shapes on the forearm and elbow make use of these traditional artistic styles. Other geometric designs, like the web around the nipple, help this piece stand out and guarantee that the wearer will never have to worry about seeing someone else with the same tattoo.
Here is another interesting piece that takes aspects of Maori tattoos while creating a new and unique design. The placement on the shoulder invokes images of armor and takes advantage of the natural lines of the wearer’s body to make a nice, flowing tattoo.
While the concept and design of this tattoo are quite interesting parts of the application leave something to be desired. The upper portion of the tattoo is even and well done but the lower half suffers from inconsistencies in the shaky line work. It is a nice piece; however, a more consistent application would send it to the next level.
This beautiful piece uses elements of Maori and other tribal designs to create a unique and striking tattoo. The stacked, alternating patterns is decidedly Maori inspired, but some of the patterns stray from this strictly traditional style: several of the patterns seem to share traits with Native American designs. The expert line work and consistency set this piece apart in a sea of tribal inspired tattoos and is a testament to the wearer’s aesthetic and the artist’s patience and skill.
Here is another tattoo that uses elements from different tribal art to create a bold and interesting piece. The full sleeve is reminiscent of Maori tattoos; however, many of the patterns on this full sleeve take cues from different Native American tribal art. The diamonds with small crosses as well as the layered triangles appear to be inspired by Southwest Native American art. The saturation in the black and the limited use of negative space really helps these patterns to pop.
This back piece also uses elements of traditional Maori tattoos along with new school style to great effect. The patterns in the tattoo are inspired by Maori pieces, while the negative space of the swirls break from the traditional style to create a more interesting, unique tattoo. The swirls evoke images of waves crashing on the shore, while the patterns look to mimic thatched palms fronds. This is a great example of the fusion of styles that mark the evolution of taste in the tattoo world.
This tattoo fuses traditional Polynesian elements with a modern style. The patterns used are common Polynesian and Maori designs while drop shadows are used to great effect, adding a depth to this piece that is not usually seen in traditional tribal tattoos. The way that the artist incorporated the wearer’s physiology is also worth noting. A spiral just above the elbow and the way the tattoo finishes just past the wrist, extending onto the hand are both interesting elements that an experienced tattoo artist utilized in creating the tribal design.
This tattoo takes traditional Maori designs and brings them into the present with the addition of a limited color palate and other elements to separate it from similar pieces. The portion on the shoulder is made up of concentric circles, including red bands and geometric patterns and is crossed by two bands of triangles that invoke images of arrow heads. The use of black and grey shading along with small sections of stippling further set it apart from other tribal designs.
This is a tight, well-executed tattoo that doesn’t stray far from traditional Polynesian designs. The precision of the line work is really what sets the piece apart: the consistency in the line work for each of the different patterns is superb and the negative space really helps to make these patterns pop. This piece also uses the shape of the calf well. As the calf tapers down to the ankle, the tattoo follows the same line helping to create a well-balanced, interesting tattoo.
This full leg sleeve tattoo takes traditional Maori and Polynesian patterns and design elements and adds some shapes and patterns that push beyond a traditional tribal piece. The use of the natural body lines and the tight, geometric shapes almost give this piece a biomechanical feel reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s artwork. The way the negative space that starts around the knee and creates a flow down the leg and over the foot successfully gives this piece a dynamic feel that can be difficult to create.
This arm tattoo is a monument to Aztec and Mayan tribal ink stands out thanks to bold, black line work and attention to detail. On the bicep you can see the face of a snake, possibly Quetzalcoatl, the mythical feathered serpent from Mesoamerican tradition.
The combination of the angular, square spirals common in this tribal art with the smooth rounded edges of the flames on the outside elbow create a stylistic contrast that adds to the piece. The way the negative space runs in a large spiral, twisting down the entire arm also adds to the overall composition of the tattoo.
This piece takes the layered, geometric pattern of Polynesian Island art and Maori tattoos then incorporates them into a brutal, modern chest tattoo. The shape of the semi-spirals invokes the image of a mythical chimera with the tusks of a boar or elephant. The use of brown shading on the upper portions of the chest adds a dynamic that is not seen in other tribal pieces while the geometric shapes in the center of the chest also help to differentiate this tattoo from more traditional pieces.
Here is another tattoo using elements of tribal tattoo ideas but incorporates other tattoo style to create an interesting piece. The alternating geometric pattern characteristic of Polynesian tattoo is on full display here, acting as a frame for another image.
Over the pectoral is a tropical island scene complete with sailboat, palm tree and a sunset over the ocean. The use of negative space, specifically the “slices” taken out of the design on the pectoral is another interesting design feature that further helps this tattoo stand out from other similar pieces. This is an interesting tattoo that lets the wearer take his own personal paradise wherever he goes.
This tattoo combines the Maori tribal tattoo and Samoan tribal tattoo patterns but applies a more realistic representation. The artist takes the swirls and patterns common in these traditional tattoos, using shading and highlights to create a realism that is not often combined in tribal pieces.
Expert shading gives parts of the leg sleeve tattoo a very interesting three-dimensional quality. Negative space runs down the outside of the leg and is used to increase the contrast between different layers of black ink and grey shading. This is a unique tattoo that demonstrates the diversity of what is considered a modern tribal tattoo.
This interesting tattoo uses some of the older tribal style elements to make for a large, attention-grabbing piece. The interplay between black ink and negative space is well used, incorporating the natural lines of the elbow, shoulder and wrist to create a dynamic piece of tattoo art. While these tattoos are not as popular as they once were, this is a great example of the style that stands out from the crowd.
Awesome Tribal Tattoo FAQs
What do tribal tattoos symbolize?
Tribal tattoos designs can symbolize power and strength, providing the wearer with a physical connection to their ancestral people and culture. Tribal art often represents ties to a larger group or family or signifies a specific rite of passage within traditional society.
While for others, the symbolic meaning appeals more to an aesthetic taste and are imparted with a personal meaning that is represented by these commanding tattoos.
For many members of these distinct ethnic groups – whether it’s the European Celtic tribal tattoo, Asian tribal art or Polynesian culture – tribal tattoos form a permanent bond to their unique lineage and ancestors.
What are the different types of tribal tattoos?
While most people are familiar with the modern tribal tattoos of the early 2000’s there are a variety of traditional tribal tattoos from different groups around the world.
Maori, Polynesian – which includes the Marquesas Island, Hawaii, and greater Samoan tattoo – and Celtic tribal tattoo are all part of the larger tribal style. More examples include Filipino tattoos, Mayan and Aztec themes, as well as other Native American designs.
The variety of these tattoos is as broad and diverse as the different peoples around the globe. Each tattoo can provide any number of significant meanings to the wearer.
Along with these traditional designs a growing interest in the fusion of these different styles with new, western concepts means that the sky is the limit for these interesting tattoos.
How do I choose a tribal tattoo?
The choice of body art style, placement and meaning is up to the client. In the past some tribal styles- specifically the Maori tribal tattoo Ta Moko- have been reserved for members of their ethnic group and have been open to cultural appropriation.
In the case of Ta Moko, a different term – Kirituhi – is used for tattoos done in that style without the strict cultural connotation. Other tribal tattoos have moved away from cultural appropriation and made their way into mainstream tattoo culture as being more acceptable.
How much would a tribal tattoo cost?
The price of a tribal tattoo design is determined by numerous factors. Different artists charge different rates depending on time, tattoo size, artist experience, skill level, and whether their work is in high demand. For intensive tribal tattooing price can also be determined based on a per piece rate.
Did you enjoy these tribal patterns and Polynesian designs? Click on the links below for more tribal art ideas you can incorporate and develop into your next tattoo.