[FOUNTAIN]Tattoos no longer taboo“Tattoo” became an English word in 1769 when British explorer Captain James Cook mispronounced the Tahitian word “tatau,” meaning engraving a pattern or a mark. Europeans of the 18th century abhorred the indigenous South Pacific islanders, who decorated their bodies with tattoos. They believed in the very Western idea that the human body was an artwork crafted by God and a symbol of sacredness.
However, to the Polynesians, tattoos were an important ritual and a way of life. The tattoos covering the entire faces of the Maoris of New Zealand symbolize their families and lineage. The tattoos also represent the accomplishments and authority of the person. They are more than mere decorations. The tattoos illustrate awe and respect for God and are believed to have magical power. Maori women would dye their buttocks black when they came of age and the Maoris tattooed three dots on their tongues when their parents passed away. They also believed that the mark of an eye on the palm would lead them to the next life after death.
Japanese tattoos are recognized as a new form of art. Tattoos became popular from the mid-18th century as a means of resistance against the authorities. When the royal court ruled that only the royal family members and aristocrats could wear colorful kimonos, commoners stood against the ruling class by covering their entire bodies with tattoos. The restriction provided the Japanese a chance to develop the most splendid and delicate tattoos. The mentality that you become mature spiritually by bearing the pain of tattooing also helped the tattoo culture prosper.
In contrast, tattoos are still considered a “forbidden art” in Korean society. We are accustomed to the Confucian philosophy that all body parts were given by the parents, and therefore, it is a filial duty not to damage one’s body. Also, people view tattoos with contempt because of their association with gangsters.
Recently, Koreans have changed their views on tattoos. They sometimes go wild over the tattoos on celebrities and star athletes. Tattoos are no longer the exclusive property of gangsters and social outcasts but are considered a way of expressing one’s personality. An increasing number of people get tattoos to express love for their families or renew their resolutions.
Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward garnered much attention for having his name tattooed in Korean on his right arm. Koreans also have a vivid memory of a Korean soccer player who revealed a tattoo on his arm as he celebrated after scoring a goal during the 2002 World Cup.
by Park Jai-hyun
The writer is a deputy city news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.