Making your mark: The world's most bizarre tattoos

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It used to be a sign of spirituality or a symbol of your clan. Now, the tattoo is just a way to make a statement. And the more unusual – or embarrassing – the better

On 11 December 1787, part of a French naval fleet led by Commodore Comte de la Perouse became stranded in shallow waters off the northern coast of Tutuila, in the South Pacific. The sailors had set off from Brest two years earlier, on a tempestuous voyage to Australia; as they reached the area now known as American Samoa, the sailors started to search for a piece of land on which to lay their flag.

But for many of the would-be colonists, the journey came to a fatal end. The sailors attempted to step ashore not far from where their marooned vessel had landed when a band of natives attacked, leaving many of the men dead on the beach. Those who survived later described their aggressors as a band of strange looking creatures, their skin adorned with elaborate geometric designs, giving the men the appearance of being clothed, though they were in fact.........  f naked. Some years earlier, Captain Cook noted similar markings adorning the skin of indigenous tribes of the Marquesas Islands. These instances were the first recorded sightings of the "tatu" – a Haitian term meaning "to mark" – and what was for the people of Polynesia an ancient practice with a deep cultural significance. The markings were said to represent a person's spiritual being, to indicate one's social status and herald an allegiance to a specific belief system.

While sailors returning from the South Pacific are said to have brought this Polynesian tradition back to Europe, there is evidence of body art in Britain as far back as the 6th century within ancient Celtic culture. Clansmen inscribed their skin with various knot-like symbols – using a blue plant extract known as woad – as a tribal emblem. In Africa and South America, too, tattoos have long been used as a badge of identity.

Today in Britain, tattoos remain a popular signifier of allegiance, taste and culture. In fact, they have never been more prevalent in our Western culture. We now have a number of genres to speak of, and each fulfils an important social function. Among the most popular is the "partner" tattoo. With these, a person permanently inscribes the name of their lover on to a (usually very visible) piece of their flesh. An indelible way of saying "I'm yours", the tattoo can also serve as a memento of happy times, to be cherished once the relationship has irreparably broken down. Then there are Asian symbols: Chinese, Japanese, Nepalese – it doesn't matter, as long as the tattoo (apparently) means "Om" or "Tiger" and it is done on a beach in Thailand – or in Camden Market. These scream "life-experience".

Finally, there are those belonging to the "other" category, like the ones exhibited on these pages. These include the "Swayzaur" – a tuxedo-wearing Patrick Swayze depicted as a Centaur – and the "I'm Gonna Kill You, Ray Romano" promise, not to mention a handless arm adorned with a tattooed fingernail, or a game of Pac-Man etched on to a man's posterior. All of these spectacular creations are part of a series showcased in a book which claims to examine "the greatest development of human artistic expression: the objectively awful tattoo".

'No Regrets: The Best, Worst & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever' by Aviva Yael & P M Chen is published by Little, Brown. To order a copy at the special price of £11.69, including postage and packing, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Recruitment Genius: Social Media Manager

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Busy, friendly and creative marketing ag...

    Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project