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Since the invention of tattoos, this act of displaying permanent art on the skin has invariably had special meaning and purpose. Some have used tattoos to:

  • bestow magical powers, such as protection for warriors and firemen
  • ward off evil influences in life and afterlife
  • for medicinal purposes, since tattoos are sometimes found to align with acupuncture points.

 

Today, some people regard tattoos as simply artwork to be worn proudly, while others use tattoos as reminders to achieve a sense of wellbeing. Some examples include:

  • stars to remind the wearer of their own worth
  • a circle to remember that life is a cycle and that there’s no fear of ending, or to remember the closeness of family ties
  • symbols or sayings, such as carpe diem, to remind the wearer to stop fretting about the past or future and instead live in the present.

 

Considering that FK Irons is headquartered in Miami, which can be described as a Little Latin America of the US and that our founder, Gaston Siciliano is Argentine, we’re celebrating all aspects of our very Latin flavor during Hispanic Heritage Month.

 

Peruvian tattoo artist, Miguel Del Cuadro, one of our Pro Team members, has become interested in Pre-Columbian civilizations.

 

“Visiting the Andes and archaeological sites in Peru got me interested and, more importantly, helps me to redefine who I am and where I came from with some sort of detail. It was very exciting to know that their worldview, costumes, traditions that are hundreds - if not thousands of years old – are alive today.”

 

Compilation of tattoos and art featuring Pre-Columbian motifs by painter and tattoo artist, Miguel Del Cuadro

About the symbolism, Miguel gives us some insights that shouldn’t be surprising:

 

“Well, there are tons of symbols from different cultures that have no relation with one another. For example; the cross. The chacana, or Andean cross is a symbol most used in Andean cultures for thousands of years and represents the three worlds they believed in.”

 

“You can see the admiration for animals and their qualities in the art of the civilizations. They feature lots of jaguar, cougars, owls, snakes, frogs, fish and many more. In the Andean Pre-Columbian cultures, you’ll see mostly jaguars related to this world (kay pacha), snakes to the underworld (ukhu pacha) and some condors or owls that represent the higher world (hanan pacha).

Tattoos and artwork with Pre-Columbian motifs by painter and tattoo artist Miguel Del Cuadro

 

Every animal they depicted had a meaning, we just need to sit down and do a lot of research. For instance, on the north coast of Peru they found a 2,000 year-old mummy that archaeologists think must have been a shaman because her skin bore tattoos of snakes and spiders."

 

Miguel continues: "In the Amazonian cosmovision and also in some cultures in the Andes, the snake is a symbol of medicine, the power of healing by itself, i.e. the power that you may have to heal yourself.” 

 

Let’s check out some Pre-Columbian art and symbolism for anyone inspired to connect with civilizations whose DNA run through the Latin American peoples of today.

These ancient symbols might inspire your next tattoo and frame of mind!

 

 

PRE-COLUMBIAN ANIMAL SYMBOLS

Moche/Peruvian
Centipedes: straddling both living and afterlife. When the centipede has two heads, it might be self-confirming.

 

Peruvian
Condors: the other world.

Jaguar: closely associated with the gods and sacred structures. Symbolizes power and is worn only by people who wield power.

 

Peruvian
Owl: the higher world.

 

Moche/Peruvian
Raptorial birds: messengers of the gods that accompany men in the battlefield and/or are ready to take the souls of the deceased in battle.

 

Serpent: especially eating its own tail symbolizes regeneration and in an extrapolated form; eternity.

 

Snakes in general: life energy, sometimes a sign of medicine and self-healing. Sometimes signals the underworld.

 

Boas: life energy.

 

Maya
Snail: winter solstice.

 

Toads/frogs: doorways to supernatural experiences, by harvesting some of their poisons, particularly used by shamans.

 

Maya
Turtle: summer solstice.

 

  

NATURE SYMBOLS IN PRE-COLUMBIAN ART

Central American
Jade: Breath spirit, governance.

 

Moche/Peruvian
Mountain peaks: The soul’s capacity to soar through the air.

 

Taíno (Indigenous to most Caribbean islands)
Twins: a very interesting design found in Taíno art, they represent the opposing forces of nature, like day and night.

Taino (indigenous Caribbean) symbol of twins, image courtesy of FreeTattooDesigns.org 

Amazonian and Amerindians
Trees: Origin myths, cultural identity as a people. Often is anthropomorphic, and/or connects people to the spirit world and rebirth.

 

 

WHAT COLORS CAN SYMBOLIZE IN THE AZTEC CIVILIZATION

Aztec
Yellow: usually indicated a female

Violet: royalty

Red: Wisdom

Black: Wisdom

 

 

SHAPES IN PRE-COLUMBIAN SOCIETIES

Peru
Cross: The three worlds.

 

Amerindian
Three-pointed stone (i.e. Triangle): Spirit

 

Taíno (Caribbean)
Swirl: water, which was crucially important to indigenous cultures.

 

 

Sources and more reading:

The Earliest Inhabitants: The Dynamics of the Jamaican Taino

 

Wing and a Prayer: An Ethnological and Iconographic Comparison of Animal Symbolism and Spiritual Belief in Pre-Columbian South and Mesoamerica

 

Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas

 

Spiritual Imagery and Materiality in Pre-Columbian Art

 

Wing and a Prayer: An Ethnological and Iconographic Comparison of Animal Symbolism and Spiritual Belief in Pre-Columbian South and Mesoamerica

 

Pre-Columbian Tattoos of Western South America

 

The Symbolism of Jade in Classic Maya Religion

 

Animal Figures in the Maya Codices

 

Taino Tattoos

 

Understanding the Petroglyphs

  

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