Tattoos and piercings: the ancient cultural expression

A sense of belonging, a tribal connection, a preparation for a ceremony or mere pleasure made our indigenous ancestors express themselves through body art

Opposite to what one might think, tattoos have existed for thousands of years and have fulfilled several functions depending on context and culture.

Surprisingly, the earliest evidence of tattoos and piercings has been found on a mummy that belonged to the Chinchorro culture in the Pacific coastal region of current northern Chile and southern Peru. Allowing researchers to conclude that these are the first preserved body art expressions dated back to the year 2000 a. C.

Through the elaboration of mythical images and geometrical figures, the body has been the most important mean of expression for indigenous communities in Latin America since its beginning.

Painting and body make-up have had the function of expressing spiritual connections with ancestors, nature, hierarchy, and with countless of festivities and meetings.

Indigenous cultures from Mesoamerica are great examples of this ancient custom. The Mayan people tattooed themselves for different purposes. Sometimes in the hopes to obtain divine protection, others to commemorate warriors and gods, and sometimes to differentiate themselves from the enemies, among varied reasons.

In Colombia, two representatives of the tattoo culture are the Wayuú (Guajira) and the Embera (Chocó) indigenous communities. During rituals, Colombian natives have frequently used paintings, unique hairstyles, perfumes, and various body modification practices.

The Embera people of the Pacific jungles can be found in villages where body painting continues to be effective and elaborate; it is used in almost all "rituals del jaibaná" made to connect with ancestral spirits.

Body art has been part of different cultures. Nowadays, oddly enough, these practices have been looked down upon but, regardless, continue to thrive within modern society. It is still a way to express personal beliefs, identity, and culture.


LatinAmerican Post | Manuela Pulido Gutiérrez
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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