Tattoos have been throughout our diverse cultures for thousands of generations, dating
back to the Stone Age. While some cultures view tattoos as taboo, tattoos are also viewed as a rite
of passage throughout life by others. Even now, in modern American society, tattoos are now
considered socially acceptable by most, even though as recently as 30 years ago, they were thought
to be tacky, or otherwise an indicator of less then exemplary character.
In a culture that observes these tattoos as a right to passage it represents the difficult
journey into adulthood, a mark of status, bravery, a pledge of love, or possible punishment.
Guynup (2004) speaks of an adolescent boy from the tribe of Ngaju Dayak located in the
Indonesian section of the island Borneo, venturing into the jungle only armed with a blowgun and
poison darts, in search of a wild boar or monkey. The boy returns safely home after killing a wild
boar, when he entered the village with his prize the boy was viewed as navigating successfully
through the rite of passage into adulthood. This boy has now become a man in his tribe. To show
the rite of passage he endured, he is ritually tattooed.
This boy represents a beginning to an end, a
way into adulthood for some cultures. For the Ngaju Dayak tribe these tattoos represent the
difficult journey throughout life; when a member is tattooed other tribe members gather to honor
their ancestors and chant before tattooing begins, once the tattooing has begun it could be several
hours before completion of the tattoo, possibly even days. When these tattoos are given the
tattooist consults their spirit guides to help with the design. These designs range from animals to
plants as they are intricately tattooed on the tribe member, depending on which rite of passage has
been encountered. The Iban, another tribe in Borneo, believes the soul is in the head of the enemy.
By taking the head of the enemy, this tribe believes they are ensuring success in fertility within the
tribe and farming for the season. When the members return from head-hunting successful, those
members are tattooed on their fingers with an anthropomorphic animal. A bird referred to as the