More than any single style, tribal tattoos draw upon traditional tattoo elements from various cultures and Indigenous groups worldwide. Maori tattoos, Aztec designs, and the swirling lines and patterns that developed in America in the 1980s/90s are known simply as “tribal” and all fall under the umbrella of tribal tattoos.
The placement of these designs depends a lot on the tradition from which they draw inspiration. The shoulder, thighs, chest, and face are all canvases used in tribal tattooing. It depends on the design and your personal preference when choosing the placement for your tattoo ideas.
Showcasing work from several different traditions and cultures, the tribal tattoos in this collection will give you plenty of ammunition to bring to your favorite artist when it’s time to sit for your next session.
1. Tribal Wolf Tattoo
Wolves have been powerful symbols of strength and loyalty for centuries and hold massive potential in terms of design and composition. For both of these reasons, wolf tattoos are an excellent choice for someone looking to add the ultimate canine to their collection of ink.
2. Filipino Tribal Tattoo
Among some peoples of the Philippine islands, traditional tattoos are known as burik. Created using layered patterns and motifs drawn from the natural environments of the islands, the Filipino tribal tattoos are potent symbols of the cultural heritage.
3. Dragon Tribal Tattoo
With the powerful symbolism associated with these mythic creatures and their complex shapes and anatomy, it isn’t surprising that dragon tattoos are popular designs for the western tribal tattoo style.
4. Tribal Sun Tattoo
Another design that lends itself to the layered patterns and swirling lines of the western style, tribal sun tattoos, gained popularity in the 90s and continues to this day. Primarily tattooed on the arms and chest, this tattoo is perfect for keeping small, making it easy to hide while you’re at your 9 to 5.
5. Tribal Lion Tattoo
The lion, an apex predator, is associated with power, strength, and vitality. It is the perfect way to continue this legacy of meaningful designs, making tribal lion tattoos an excellent choice for anyone looking for a fierce addition to their collection of ink.
6. Tribal Turtle Tattoo
The turtle represents perseverance, strength, and patience, making tribal turtle tattoos a visually striking way to embody these traits and pay homage to these vibrant island cultures.
7. Hawaiian Tribal Tattoo
Hawaiian tribal tattoos are powerful symbols of cultural heritage and national pride. The designs are as meaningful as visually striking for someone who wants to demonstrate their respect for the Hawaiian islands and the people who call them home.
8. Aztec Tribal Tattoo
Hosting a plethora of fierce gods and intricate patterns, the art and designs of this Mesoamerican culture are striking and deeply meaningful. For someone looking to dedicate a portion of their skin to this culture and its people, Aztec tattoos are an excellent choice.
9. Tribal Scorpion Tattoo
The aggressive shape of these predatory arachnids makes them the perfect subject for the swirling lines and sharp edges. Scorpion tattoos also represent the zodiac house, Scorpio, ideal for anyone born between October 23rd and November 21st.
10. Polynesian Tribal Tattoo
Similar to traditional art from other island cultures, Polynesian tribal tattoos use layered patterns and intricate line work to create art that draw inspiration from the sea, forest, and mountains of these beautiful natural environments.
11. Tribal Shark Tattoo
Sharks are powerful symbols of independence, strength, and the mystery of the sea. When applied in a motif that draws on indigenous cultures of the Pacific, tribal shark tattoos can become unique commemorations of the apex predators.
12. Tribal Phoenix Tattoo
When applied in the bold black and sharp edges of western tribal designs, tribal phoenix tattoos can make for some eye-catching designs, despite a lack of color.
13. Samoan Tribal Tattoo
A small group of islands smack dab in the middle of the South Pacific, Samoa is the home of a culture that is equally fierce and family-oriented; and retains the honor and pride of its history. As powerful symbols of the people, Samoan tribal tattoos are essential aspects of the island culture and continue to hold deep meaning to those that wear them.
14. Tribal Cross Tattoo
The blending of different approaches and motifs in tattoos is a natural development that leads to new styles. Combining Christian imagery with this modern take on tribal designs, tribal cross tattoos are great examples of this synergy.
15. Taino Tribal Tattoo
The Indigenous inhabitants of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, the Taino, continue to use the art and stories of their heritage for permanent body art. Incorporating design elements inspired by the islands’ natural environment, Taino tribal tattoos often use lizards, snakes, and turtles to represent survival, strength, and cultural pride.
16. Viking Tribal Tattoo
Viking tribal tattoos are a popular choice for people with roots in the Norse ethnic tradition. Often featuring scenes and characters from Norse mythology, Odin, Thor and Loki are all popular subjects for these designs.
17. Mexican Tribal Tattoo
Given the cultural overlap, Mexican tribal tattoos often feature characters and designs from Aztec art and culture, making for some fierce commemorations to this ancient and vital tradition.
18. Tribal Flower Tattoo
Using the sharp lines and bold black ink of western tribal designs may seem like a strange choice for such a vibrant subject, but tribal flower tattoos can be surprisingly appealing in the hands of a talented artist.
19. Tribal Rose Tattoo
More than most other flowers, tribal rose tattoos are well suited for this style, thanks to the natural swirls and sharp thorns on these classic blossoms.
20. Tribal Tiger Tattoo
The unmistakable stripes of this Asian predator are ideally suited for tribal designs, making tribal tiger tattoos an excellent choice for anyone looking for a fierce tattoo that doesn’t rely on bright colors to turn heads.
21. African Tribal Tattoo
Far from any single culture or design, African tribal tattoos encompass various styles and traditions from the world’s most ethnically diverse continent. Far too many to list here; this style is a great jumping-off point.
22. Tribal Owl Tattoo
A symbol of wisdom, intelligence, and mystery, the owl is present in the folklore of cultures around the world. Coupled with the unmistakable visage of this nocturnal raptor, tribal owl tattoos make for some compelling ink.
23. Small Tribal Tattoo
Not every design needs to take up a massive chunk of real estate. Small tribal tattoos can make for surprisingly eye-catching designs on a small canvas.
24. Tribal Heart Tattoo
There is no mistaking the symbolism behind a heart, and for anyone looking to commemorate love but looking for something a bit different, tribal heart tattoos could be a perfect choice.
25. Tribal Fish Tattoo
Whether it’s a western tribal piece full of swirling lines or a design inspired by the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest, tribal fish tattoos can make for some compelling details chocked full of symbolic meaning.
26. Eagle Tribal Tattoo
Another bird of prey with unmistakable symbolism, tribal eagle tattoos can be applied in a few different styles and are a striking way to commemorate these noble and fierce raptors. Bird tattoos are a great way to show off your free spirit and patriotic love (especially with bald eagles), these designs work best on the chest and arms.
27. Japanese Tribal Tattoo
Blending traditional irezumi with the more abstract tattoo patterns of tribal work can make for unique and dynamic work, taking Japanese tattoos beyond tradition to the next level.
28. Tribal Flame Tattoo
An elemental force, fire, represents the untamed power of the natural world. Along with this, the variety of shapes flames can take makes tribal flame tattoos a great choice for those with artistic flair.
29. Tribal Moon Tattoo
Significant to cultures around the world, the moon’s effect on life is witnessed twice a day as the tide rolls in and out. This universal importance makes tribal moon tattoos meaningful pieces that can be applied anywhere on the body.
30. Tribal Feather Tattoo
In various Indigenous practices, feathers hold multiple meanings, although strength, protection, and bravery are the most common. The feather tattoo has the ability to adapt to a variety of styles to create the best eye-catching piece for you.
31. Tribal Skull Tattoo
Perhaps the ultimate symbol of mortality, tribal skull tattoos can serve as powerful reminders that our time in this world is limited.
32. Tribal Bull Tattoo
With sharp horns and a fierce gaze, bulls are an excellent choice for the bold black and clean lines of tribal work. Tribal bull tattoos are a strong statement of the wearer’s style and attitude, representing strength and power.
33. Irish Tribal Tattoo
The complex knotwork that typifies Irish and Celtic designs holds deep significance and is visually striking. Whether it’s a cross or the Claddagh ring, Irish tribal tattoos are a great way to show pride in your Celtic heritage.
34. Celtic Tribal Wolf Tattoo
Representing the fearless warrior in the Celtic tradition, Celtic tribal wolf tattoos let the wearer show off their heritage and warrior spirit, all wrapped up in one eye-catching design.
35. Tribal Snake Tattoo
Symbols of vitality, fertility, and rebirth, tribal snake tattoos can be applied in several exciting different styles while retaining this powerful symbolic meaning.
36. Indian Tribal Tattoo
While not as well known as Polynesian designs, tattoos have been present in Indian culture for ages. Across various ethnic groups on the subcontinent, Indian tribal tattoos are as diverse as the people who wear them.
Best Men’s Tribal Tattoo Placements
37. Tribal Tattoo Sleeve
No matter the tradition that inspires your ink, tribal tattoo sleeves are sure to turn heads thanks to the size of the design and the potential for unique and creative composition. Due to the design of the tattoos, these markings are great at bringing out the natural build in men’s arms and legs.
38. Tribal Shoulder Tattoo
From Samoan half sleeves to Aztec-inspired ink, the canvas where the arm meets the body provides plenty of room for a big, bold design tribal shoulder tattoo.
39. Tribal Armband Tattoo
Armbands take advantage of the body’s lines to create compelling designs. While the layered patterns of the Polynesian islands are the most common style, tribal armband tattoos are inspired by a wide variety of cultural traditions.
40. Tribal Leg Tattoo
The leg is a large canvas full of natural anatomical lines. With the layered and complex patterns that characterize the style, tribal leg tattoos are the perfect addition to your ink collection.
41. Tribal Neck Tattoo
Whether part of a larger piece that starts on the arm and extends above the collar or a standalone piece centered on the throat, the bold statement that tribal neck tattoos make is the ultimate sign of dedication to your ink.
42. Tribal Wrist Tattoo
The wrist is a popular placement for various styles and designs – for a good reason. Tribal wrist tattoos, in a variety of styles, can make for eye-catching designs that peek out from under the cuff and are sure to turn heads.
43. Tribal Arm Tattoo
One of the most versatile canvases on the body, the arm remains a popular choice for tattoo enthusiasts, whether a simple design in the crook of the arm or a Polynesian-inspired half sleeve, tribal arm tattoos make for some visually striking and meaningful designs.
44. Forearm Tribal Tattoo
The forearm is a popular location for ink: it lets the wearer show off their ink at their discretion with the ability to quickly cover it with a long sleeve shirt. Forearm tattoos make a great choice for weekend warriors at the office 9-5.
45. Tribal Thigh Tattoo
A big, broad canvas, tribal thigh tattoos give the artist plenty of room to work and can be applied in any number of styles, although Polynesian and Samoan work is known for large thigh pieces.
Men’s Tattoo FAQ
What is a tribal tattoo?
Tribal tattoos refer to designs from a wide variety of different cultures and traditions. The style also evolved from tattooing in the 90s; this has less of a cultural implication, ideally focusing more on aesthetics.
What does a tribal tattoo mean?
The meaning behind a tribal tattoo is as varied as the different cultures they are drawn from. Ethnic history, family heritage, and symbolism from the natural can all be represented in tribal tattoos.
Is it disrespectful to get a tribal tattoo?
There are undoubtedly tribal tattoos that hold deep meaning to the cultures where they originated, often representing a rite of passage or status. While wearing these designs with respect is essential, consulting with a cultural heritage center from the group you are interested in is the best way to determine if getting that specific tribal tattoo is appropriate.