There is a tense between today’s landowners and the Indigenous people who were there first. And that’s an understatement.
Many people feel at a loss when discovering their Indigenous roots.
How do they pay proper homage to people who are forgotten or pushed aside far too often?
How do they reconcile with the world we live in today, and the world their ancestors built that was taken away from them?
Many people with roots to an Aboriginal tribe, either that they knew about or recently discovered, may feel an urge to acknowledge their DNA.
Many people choose tattoos for this purpose.
It makes sense given the relationship between blood and tattoos, and also in the fact that many Aboriginal tribes incorporated tattooing into their spiritual practices.
The Choctaw people are an Indigenous tribe, and their ancestors were heavily tattooed.
But these images weren’t purely for decoration- they had a deep spiritual significance.
Let’s explore the history of the Choctaw people, their origin story and the meaning behind their tattoos.
The Meaning of Tribal Tattoos
Though the term “tribal” is used loosely in the tattoo world, it is a term far too broad for something far too complicated.
“Tribal” is an umbrella term, and many people get tattoos without knowing which tribe they are from or what they represent.
For example is your tattoo a Choctaw tribal tattoo?
Or is it actually Polynesian or even Mayan?
When considering a new tattoo, there are things to consider.
If the design you’ve chosen is from a specific culture, it likely meant something specific to them.
And to the untrained eye, it can be easy to mistake one design for another.
Who Are the Choctaw People?
The Choctaw (a name which is said to translate to “river people”) tribe was a matriarchal society.
Men were still able to hold leadership positions, but they worked alongside women, who had equal say.
They were a tribe who put emphasis on gender equality and community.
After migrating from what is now Mexico, they settled in America in present day Mississippi.
The Choctaw people built large mounds for ceremonial purposes.
Spiritual gatherings and important meetings would take place on these mounds.
One of these still stands in Mississippi today, and is called Nanih Waiya.
They were also skilled farmers and hunters.
At first, European settlers named the Choctaw as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes.”
These were tribes who were willing to assimilate on some level to colonial ways of life, including Christianity.
Later on however, the Choctaw were the first tribe affected by the Indian Removal Act, which is fairly self explanatory.
They had negotiated for a large plot of land though and, despite pressure to assimilate to colonial ways, have grown their presence and built institutions for their people since the mid 20th century.
What is the Significance of a Choctaw Tattoo?
People at the Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation Department are asked quite regularly about Choctaw tattoos.
Choctaw were known for having ornate designs that may cover their entire body.
Typically tattoos were earned through battle, and this could make a warrior quite intimidating on the battlefield.
Tattoos would be drawn on the skin with charcoal, then made permanent with a needle made with an animal bone or tooth.
Once a series of tiny punctures were made in the skin, different naturally derived pigments were rubbed into the wound to create a design.
Choctaw tattoos were often brightly colored, setting them apart from other tribal tattoos.
One common pigment was a blue color made from burning the sap of a pine tree.
The process of tattooing was a physical undertaking, and could even make a person sick.
As with many tribal tattoos, the pain of the process is part of it.
In keeping with the matriarchal structure, it was as common to see tattoos on women as it was on men.
Common Themes in Choctaw Tattoos
Choctaw tattoos tend to be highly pigmented, with geometric designs similar to that which we see as an Aztec aesthetic.
This would only make sense, given the region the Choctaw migrated from.
Can I Get a Choctaw Tattoo?
In the most basic of terms, there’s no one stopping you from getting a Choctaw tattoo.
You may have your reasons and they feel sufficient to you.
One thing to consider is research and time.
If you have known about your Choctaw ancestry for years and are a member of the community, then you’ve probably been thinking about this tattoo for a while and know the right people to consult on it.
If you have just discovered your roots, perhaps you should focus first on making yourself a useful part of the community.
Your tattoo will mean so much more when there’s a meaningful history behind it.
Be like a Choctaw warrior and earn your tattoo through service to your people.
We’ve barely scratched the surface in this article, and there’s so much to learn about this tribe both past and present.
If you do not have any Choctaw roots and you just like the design, perhaps you can find something similar in your ancestry that may be more fitting and have a deeper meaning for you.
Choctaw Tattoo Ideas
Curious about Choctaw tattoos and what they look like?
Check out our gallery for some inspiration.