Is Harding University becoming more progressive? As a conservative, private Christian college located in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas, Harding has high standards and many rules for their students to follow. Rules on hair color, curfew, and dress are a few examples of student regulations that one signs up for when attending Harding. But things might be changing. Subtly. So subtly in fact that some of the Deans are not even aware.
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But first, when did tattoos start to show up around the world to make it a topic for debate in the 21st century? Cate Lineberry, writer for the Smithsonian magazine, claims that the tattoo patterns were discovered on the famous “Iceman,” or frozen Italian-Austrian mummy, has be carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old. She goes on to say that tattoos have been discovered through recorded history present on female Egyptian mummies from 2000 B.C. “There's certainly evidence that women had tattoos on their bodies and limbs from figurines c. 4000-3500 B.C. to occasional female figures represented in tomb scenes c. 1200 B.C. and in figurine form c. 1300 B.C., all with tattoos on their thighs,” Lineberry said. “Also small bronze implements identified as tattooing tools were discovered at the town site of Gurob in northern Egypt and dated to c. 1450 B.C.” Some argue tattooing has existed since 12,000 B.C., but that date has not been verified through scientific evidence, but guesswork.
What did tattoos mean and who was using them? The word tattoo, which means “to mark something,” comes from 18th century Tahitian, Tongan, Samoan, and Marquesan (Merriam-Webster). Tattoos have played, and still play, an important role in ritual and tradition, however, the purpose of tattoos varies from culture to culture. “In many cases, it seems to have sprung up independently as a permanent way to place protective or therapeutic symbols upon the body, then as a means of marking people out into appropriate social, political or religious groups, or simply as a form of self-expression or fashion statement,” Lineberry said.
Harding student via Erin Hanson
There are 11 ancient cultures that adopted tattoos into their ancestry. Samoan, Polynesia. Traditional Samoan tattoos are created using natural materials for the black ink and handmade tools. The women’s version, called Malu, has more gentle and intricate motifs than the men’s version, called Pe’a. They feature symmetric lines and large blocks from the waist to the knees.
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Maori Tribe, New Zealand. The tattoo culture of New Zealand’s famous Maori tribe, involves making permanent facial and body marks called Ta Moko. Men’s tattoos feature elaborate designs that cover their entire face and the women’ are focused around the lips, chin and sometimes nostrils.
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Buddhist Culture. A lot of the popular Mandala designs originally came from Buddhist culture. The Mandala Wheels are incredibly intricate circular patterns that are supposed to represent the universe, completion and eternity. Mandalas are extremely individualized, because a person can design the pattern themselves.
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China. China is believed to have started their tattoo culture sometime near 3,000 B.C. Their tattoos include either gigantic body designs that cover the entire back, leg or hand, or feature Kanji, Chinese characters drawn in the style of Japanese writing. Kanji is the more popular style of the two and usually signify ideas like love, blessing, prosperity and numerous others.
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Japan. Japanese tattoos closely resemble Chinese tattoos through structure, symbols, patterns and language, because they also feature Kanji. Tattoos were forbidden by the Japanese government until the 19th century so the people who had them were associated with crime. Even now, people who have extensive body tattoos cannot enter certain places. -include twitchi’s video.
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The United States. Native American tattoo culture includes designs and motifs like dream catchers, arrow heads, or eagle feathers. While in Hawaii, or Polynesian cultures, tattoos feature a lot of animals or marine life, mythical beings, floral patterns, and gods, among many others.
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India. Indian tattoos are unique in that they are impermanent and painless. Their body art, called Henna, is famous for their unusual process that involves staining the body, usually centered around the hand or leg, with pigmented paste made of mostly henna leaves. This temporary body art, which used to strictly be for marriage rituals, involves intricate, lacy patterns that have an orange or a deep brown color. Recently, color variants have started to pop up as silver, white and gold.
Thailand. An interesting facet of Thailand’s tattoo culture is not just their different collection of script and symbols, but the way they do the tattoos. The process involves needles attached to bamboo rods, and ink that is hand-tapped into the skin. Compared to other tattooing styles, besides Henna, this style is thought to be the most time-consuming but least painful.
Ireland. Ireland draws from its rich cultural history of tribal warriors and chiefs for their distinct symbols. The typical Irish tattoo features Celtic imagery like the Shamrock theme, Celtic cross, and the Claddagh.
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Egypt. Hieroglyphics from Egypt include many symbols that stand for ideas, like creation, union of male and female, protection, life and rebirth, and more. Significant hieroglyphic tattoo examples would be the Ankh, the Scarab, the Eye of Ra.
And Mexico. Mexican tattoos are as diverse as their many subcultures. Their tattoo practice began around the 12th century and always contains symbols and designs that represent, and are influenced by, their religious, historical, and political heritage like Aztec tattoos. Today, tattoos representing regional and Chilango (belonging to Mexico City) pride are very prevalent.
“The art of tattooing, though predominant since ages, has only gained popularity over time,” Genelia Fernades, author of ancient tattoo cultures article, said. “Each region and each culture, with its own symbolism and connotation, has literally been leaving a permanent mark on people around the world over the centuries,” (guiddoo.com).
But where tattoos always positively accepted by cultural standards? These cultures appreciated and flaunted their tattooed bodies, but not everyone agreed with that practice. Some, like Herodotus, Greek writer from 450 B.C., said amongst the Scythians and Thracians, "tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth,” viewed them favorably. Even the ancient Britons saw tattoos as a mark of high status. Yet for the Romans and Greeks, tattoos or "stigmata" as they were once named, were used largely to mark someone that “belonged” to a slave owner, a religious organization, and sometimes, it was even used as a way to identify criminals.
Image source via ccvresources
Romans eventually changed their minds about tattoos and the fashion was adopted by Roman soldiers. This lead to the practice spreading across the Roman Empire until the appearance of Christianity, when tattoos apparently "disfigured that made in God's image" and so were banned by Emperor Constantine in A.D. 306-373. (smithsonianmag.com). Which leads to today, the 21st century.
How do modern Christians view tattoos?There are conflicting viewpoints from Christians on the subject of tattoos. It basically boils down to the issue of tattoos being sinful or not.
The more conservative side, or those against tattoos, will quote Leviticus 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” They follow the belief that our bodies are temples for the Lord and that we should not mar it any way. One such man, Fritz Chery, said on his blog form this year that he views tattoos as sinful and that Christ followers should stay away from them. “This is God’s body not ours,” Chery said. “You are going to have to give it back. Don’t think He’s going to be pleased with Bible verse tattoos. Imagine if I let you borrow my car and you brought it back with scratches all over it because you thought I would be OK with it. I would be angry.” He goes on to talk about how in the New Testament, God says some things are okay now, such as eating pork, but he never mentions tattoos. He also points out that there are still things that Christians consider a sin, like bestiality, that is only ever mentioned in the Old Testament as well. To wrap up his post, he thinks believers who get God-centered tattoos, for example Bible verses or faith symbols, only do it because they are self-centered and think it will make them look cool.
Harding student image via Erin Hanson
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are Christians who see tattoos as a way to connect with and evangelize unbelievers. Russell Moore, author of his blog “The Church Needs More Tattoos,” writes that Christians are called to spread his word and not judge whether someone looks like they belong in a church pew. “If the Spirit starts moving with velocity in this country, our churches will see more people in our pews and in our pulpits with tattoos,” Moore said. “If the Spirit starts breathing this burden into us with power, we’re going to see churches filled with people who never thought they fit the image of ‘Christian.’ We’ll see that the markings on the flesh, whatever they were, count for nothing, but that what counts is a new creation (Galatians 6:15).” He quoted Revelation 19:1, “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” to point to a verse in the New Testament that possibly points to tattoos. Moore and other Christians like him, think that those with God-centered tattoos specifically, are getting them for the right reasons. Wrong reasons being, to rebel against your parents or for self-promotion.
Harding student image via Erin Hanson
Harding students have their own opinions, unsurprisingly, on ink. Link story written by Sadie Ferwalt in 2012 - OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS: SIN ON SKIN? "The only rule regarding tattoos known to me was: 'You have to wait until you are 18 before you even think about getting one.' And that rule came from my father. So growing up I never thought that when I turned 18 and finally got one it would be deemed a sin. So it came as a surprise to me when, after I got my tattoo, a fellow student walked up to me and stated, 'You’re OK with having a tattoo even though it’s a sin.' I was so taken aback I didn’t know how to respond. I was momentarily shocked silent. Finally after we had argued about it long enough, I left her with a simple statement: 'How can showing my love for the people who made me be a sin if God was one of those people?'"
Harding student image via Erin Hanson
Both viewpoints and Bible verses used to defend opposing opinions, are misleading, because the answer to tattoos, as we understand them in modern times, is that the Bible is not clear on the issue of injecting ink under the skin to form permanent pictures, messages, or designs -a.k.a. modern tattooing (crosswalk.com).
Harding student image via Erin Hanson
Are tattoos prevalent enough to warrant such debates? Statistic brain and the Harris Pool seem to think so. “Tattoos are more popular than ever. Currently one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo (21%).” This percentage is up from the 16% in 2003 and 14% in 2008. On NPR’s website, they claimed to have found an earlier Pew Research Center study that showed the previously mentioned percentage to be closer to 40% among those ages 18 to 29. With entertainers, public figures, professional athletes, and even a Barbie from 2009, tattoo interest and culture seems to be on the rise. - 23 interesting tattoo facts.