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Cultural Sensitivity and Tattooing
While tattooing in Western culture is most often a personal or fashionable pursuit, the practice can carry deeper and cultural traditions in other parts of the world. Unfortunately the rise in popularity in tattooing over the last several decades seems to have come with a complete lack of education or cultural sensitivity.
Take for instance the traditional facial tattoos worn by New Zealand's indigenous people, the Maori. These are called moko and they come with extremely precise designs and meanings. These patterns developed to communicate every detail and nuance about the wearer's social standing and family history. The right to wear these designs has to be earned, the elders must give permission and only specially-trained tattoo artists can do the work. For anyone outside that culture and tradition to adopt the designs thinking they just look cool or to make up their own designs and then called them moko is dishonoring an ancient tradition.
In Thailand, there is a long history of tattooing as part of the country's religious practices. Rather than just being artists, tattooists in that country often take on a role much like a priest, creating skin designs that are prayers and blessings styled for each client based on their individual needs. The style of tattooing is still most often done in a hand-poked fashion. However, Western tourists coming to Thailand have taken to the traditional tattoo designs as a fad, something exotic to bring home from a trip like any other souvenir and this isn't sitting well with Thailand's present Cultural Minister. The government is currently debating whether they should or can enact a ban on tourists getting Buddhist or other religious figures tattooed. It's a very lucrative business option for low-wage tattooers, but an increasing number of observant Thai Buddhists are finding the association of tourists, heavy drinking, sexual activity and tattoo collecting to be one that they don't want for their country and many perceive it as an insult to the deities whose images are being etched.
While various governing bodies work out their decisions, regional governors have been asked to make announcements asking tattoo artists to voluntarily stop tattooing spiritual imagery on tourists. On the flip side of that, it might be best if Western visitors took just a moment to consider what they are doing, and how tattoos aren't just a fashion accessory or travel souvenir to everyone else even if it is for them.
Content copyright © 2013 by Rae Schwarz. All rights reserved.
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