Tattoos: A Source for Cultural Appropriation

polynesian-tattoo-for-shoulder-2Tattoos are one type of ornaments that is very popular today. It can be about anything, one can write the name of their children, someone else can draw a bird. Even though there were various options, it wasn’t enough for some individuals, thus new types were emerged. Unfortunately, in these new types, we are able to observe cultural appropriation, which is basically using an element from a different culture without getting the permission from them and without knowing the meaning of the element.

One of the examples of these tattoo types is tribal tattoos. It is true that these type of tattoos are visually appealing, but almost no one having these tattoos know the importance of them. Native American tribes were using tattoos in order to understand who belongs to which tribe. In Polynesian tribes, the main intention wasn’t to differentiate people. Nevertheless, tattoos were significant because of the meaning of different figures. For example, sun was symbolizing brilliance or shark teeth was symbolizing power. However, today, no one investigates the meaning of these figures. The only thing that comes to mind is whether it looks good or not. Maybe, people with those tattoos aren’t undermining Polynesian culture, but still they don’t know the meaning. Therefore, this usage can be considered as cultural appropriation.

Another example is about far east characters. A big percent of tattoos on people’s bodies are Japanese or Chinese letters. And a big percent of people have these tattoos not because they know what does it mean but because the characters look good. On internet, there are silly examples of those “tattoo fails”. (for examples: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/18/asian-tattoo-fails_n_1796981.html) In some cases, the letters are written upside down. These examples, especially writing a letter upside down, are some kind of a disgrace to Asian cultures. Thus, just like Polynesian tattoos, this type of tattoo can be considered as cultural appropriation.

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