Tribal Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning

Tribal tattoos for men are derived from ancient art and are a way of personal expression that’s been around for several centuries. The symbolic meaning of tribal tats has changed over time to become increasingly personalized, and these tat designs can be tweaked to carry different messages.

Meanings Behind Tribal Tattoos

The theme of a tribal tattoo is informed by the culture from which it’s derived. The following are some of the more notable designs and their associated interpretations.

Filipino Tribal Tattoos

The Filipino inking culture has been around for a long time. The tats were initially believed to have the power to ward off enemies—a belief that persists to this day. 

Filipino tribal tattoos for men are simple with lined strokes that complement the shape of the shoulders. They’re excellent for adding detail and mystery to more elaborate back designs.

This design can be combined with other symbols, imagery, and texts to create a unique design. For example, different animals can be combined with the tat: an eagle, which is an American symbol of patriotism, can be illustrated in this design to celebrate the two cultures.

Hawaiian Tribal Tattoos

Hawaiian tribal tats are heavily influenced by the ocean—the imagery of water, ocean, and sea animals are the centerpieces of this design. 

They’re also associated with bravery and endurance. These designs are often combined with butterflies, which symbolizes transformation and transition. The combination could also imply that you’re bold enough to face life’s challenges. This is a very popular design among men looking for motivational ink.

African Tribal Tattoos

Most of the African tribal tattoos center on spirituality and ornament. They include drawings of trees, wild animals, such as lions and elephants, and other natural phenomena.

The lion is regarded as a source of courage and strength. Tribal tats with a lion or a lion’s head are a symbol of courage. An elephant would symbolize longevity, power, and prosperity. 

Samoan Tribal Tattoos

Influential men and young chiefs had tattooing ceremonies that were carried out during puberty. Men had elaborate illustrations covering their bodies that made them look like they had clothes.

This tradition is very much alive today, with Pacific islanders adorning their bodies in glamorous inkwork, portraying a fierce warrior-like presence.

Samoan tribal ink also centers around sea creatures. Turtle shells, for instance, would mean wellness, longevity, peace, and fertility. 

Indian Tribal Tattoos

The tiger is a common animal in Indian tribal tattoos for men. Tiger ink could be interpreted to mean strength. Similarly, a lion’s illustration would symbolize bravery. 

Other animals common in Indian tribal tats include snakes and rabbits, which are used to symbolize wit and wisdom.

This design could be combined with other symbols or words to create unique artistry to suit your preference.

Native American Tribal Tattoos

Wolves feature in Native American tribal tattoos for men alongside drawings of totem poles. The combination is taken to imply protection or an optimistic take on life. Feathers are also featured, which symbolize pride and loyalty. 

Celtic Tribal Tattoos

Celtic tribal tattoos for men feature Celtic knots combined with symbols of the sun, the moon, and their ancient gods. The ink symbolizes pride and confidence, whereas the knots may loop into each other to represent eternity.

Mexican Tribal Tattoos

Men who bear art are considered to be protectors and warriors in Mexican culture. Dating back to the Aztec and Mayan civilizations, these tats are tied to their deep belief in the afterlife.

The most popular Mexican tribal tattoo for men is the Aztec eagle, which symbolizes courage, power, and strength. These illustrations are typically drawn on the shoulders. 

Vikings Tribal Tattoos

Viking tattoos are popular on the shoulders, backs, and necks. Some art goes all the way up to shaved heads. Generally, they feature famous Norse gods and symbols of Viking conquests, like their ancient ships.

Popular Tribal Tattoos for Men

Tribal tattoos for men can be broadly categorized into the following groups:

Celestial Shapes

Sun shapes feature heavily in tribal ink because it was revered in cultures across the world. Moons and stars are also popular because they were perceived to be masculine.


Tattoos featuring fire and flames could signify passion, love, and determination. Typically, fire is used to purify metal, and nothing comes out the same out of the fire. It could also be used to indicate a conversion or transformation in one’s life.

Other meanings that can be attributed to the imagery of fire include power, loyalty, desire, energy, and purity.

Wild Animals

A lion is often regarded as the king of the jungle, revered for its bravery and power. Some of the other attributes that can be associated with the beast include wisdom, courage, royalty, authority, and protection.

Also, elephants are associated with strength, and birds, such as the eagle, are associated with swiftness and freedom.


Tribal tattoos often feature different weapons such as arrows, bows, spears, and swords. These items are associated with warriors responsible for the security of their loved ones. They could be interpreted to mean strength, protection, or authority.

More specifically, an arrow can be used to symbolize friendship, motivation, moving forward, and a positive attitude.

Common Colors

The majority of the tribal tattoos designs are mostly black, with others being yellow and red. Black is mainly popular due to how well it contrasts with the darker skin of tribal populations, especially in the Pacific.

While black is often seen as a grim and gloomy color, this is mitigated by mixing it with others, as well as the overall theme of the tat.

By blending and singling out individual colors, you can project different meanings. For instance, red could signify love or passion, while orange could mean energy or happiness. Yellow mostly stands for happiness or hope.

Placement of the Tattoo

Before deciding on the placement of your tattoo, ask yourself the following three questions:

  • How visible do you want it to be?
  • Is it a continuing art that will need future additions?
  • How big is the tattoo?

If you don’t want your tat to be visible, you could have it etched onto your lower back. However, If you plan to make future enhancements, you should have it where space is relatively plentiful—the chest and thigh qualify.

Chest Area

A tat on the chest region can be interpreted to mean toughness, depending on the tribal motif. For instance, a lion or tiger on the chest could mean power or ferocity. The chest, being close to the heart, also indicates the significance of the tats around this area. 


This region can accommodate both small and larger ink designs. The area is often covered most of the time and is suitable for people who don’t want to show their tats. That said, there are many nerves around the rib area, so it can be painful to tattoo.


The legs are suitable for both small and large tattoos. It’s also a versatile place to have tribal tattoos. If you want to stand out—forgive the pun—with short pants, this is the placement for you.

Leg tats are also popular, especially on the thigh, due to the presence of fat, reducing the pain associated with tattooing.


Some of the common designs to have on the biceps include a quote, a name, an inspirational phrase, or a script in conjunction with a masculine tribal tattoo. 

The Back

The type of design will dictate where to place it—for example, in the middle along the spine or between the shoulders. This is the broadest area of the back, so is an excellent place for a large tattoo.

Don’t just think horizontally, though. You could also incorporate a tattoo up toward the neck and extend down the back. 

You can also single out the lower back, which is where many get a tattoo to signify support and structure.

Designs on your back can have other details and combinations that’ll make the illustration pop. Typically, tattooing the back area isn’t as painful as working on somewhere as sensitive as your ribs. Although, watch out for tattoos on the vertebrae—ouch!

Best Tribal Tattoos