Religion Past and Present

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(383 words)

[German Version]

The word tattoo derives from the Tahitian word tatau, “open a wound.” Pricking or cutting instruments and dyes are used to make permanent decorations, symbols, and images on the skin. Tattooing is found throughout the world; its origin, like that of body painting, is prehistoric. Depending on their cultural setting, tattoos range from a few dots or circles on the back of the hand, the forehead, or the chin (Middle Eastern nomads, Inuit) to whole-body tattoos (Japan, Polynesia).

Tattooing is a ritual performed by specialists, not uncommonly taking several y…

Cite this page
Bräunlein, Peter J., “Tattoos”, in: Religion Past and Present. Consulted online on 07 July 2020 <>
First published online: 2011
First print edition: ISBN: 9789004146662, 2006-2013

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