“For a lot of people it’s a cultural part of their identity,” he says. “They didn’t grow up going to school.”
Tribe tattoos — usually a few initials on one hand, a tribal design in the other — have long been a rite of passage for girls and young women.
“The idea is to find out what’s real, and learn that you are different, and that you’re not like one person and you’re not like another person,” says Mark, 28, who works in a local church and lives in a traditional small town.
That’s why, even after all those years, he still carries the tattoo of his ancestor, a Native Hawaiian boy, in his wrist: “No One But Her,” in honor of his girlfriend.
“We love each other,” he says. “We work hard for each other.”
Mark’s grandmother was a traditional tattooist; she got her first ink at age 4, when he was 3, and her father once tattooed her on an arm to make her taller and “girlier.”
The tribal tattoos have never ceased to amaze, he says.
“I always think, ‘I wish someday I had a tattoo that said, ‘Honor,’ ” he says.
But he worries that if tribal tattoos are seen as a symbol of a particular subculture, it may lose its potency in a mainstream culture that values individualism and diversity.
“It’s just a part of my life now, and it’s an evolution that’s occurred,” he says. “And that’s fine by me.”
He says he never considered having a tribal tattoo in honor of the woman he lost to cancer.
“I felt I was honoring her,” he says. “I felt it was the right thing to do, and it wasn’t because I was religious or tribal.”
That’s not how his aunt — who started the website — sees it.
“A tattoo of tribal tattoos on a man who didn’t commit a crime, and who lost his grandmother, is really quite offensive,” says his aunt, Debbie. “It really shows a lack of respect toward someone who could have been his grandmother or father.”
Debbie says the tattoos and the websites have offended people in her family:
“They’re just not the right thing to do,” she says. “I would say they’re an insult to her memory. You just can’t get
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