Is Mexico City Safe? A Local’s Perspective

Mexico City Safe

It might have been built on top of  dry lake in a highly seismic area. Yes, it might be next to an active volcano. And yes, media outlets might often report on whether it’s overall safe or not … but Mexico City is still an economic, cultural, and culinary hub. So, is Mexico City safe? Let’s talk about it from the perspective of a local.

The Basics

Mexico City is Mexico’s capital. According to the Mexican government’s last official figures, its population is 8.9 people. If we take into account its whole metropolitan area, the population goes up to around 21 million people. The city itself is located in a valley at an altitude of 2,240 meters above sea level. 

Researchers believe that a tribe named the “Aztecst” funded Mexico City under the name “Tenochtitlan” in the 1300s. The city was initially built over a lake. There, the Aztecs developed a hydraulic infrastructure with dams, canals, and the so-called “chinampas” (i.e. a type of floating gardens that provided early inhabitants with food). They also managed to control the lake’s water levels to gain land; all while having a careful co-existence with the lake. When the Spanish arrived and started colonizing in the 1500s, they carried out a series of efforts to reduce water levels in the lake. It completely dried up by the 18th century. After colonization, Mexico City suffered a series of changes including the construction of buildings that served as political, religious, and economic houses.  

Mexico City Safe
Panoramic view of Mexico City

Today Mexico City is probably Mexico’s most cosmopolitan and liberal thinking city. It is one of the few places in the country to allow abortion, some forms of euthanasia, and same-sex marriage. At the same time, it houses over 150 museums, the country’s Stock Exchange, hundreds of multinational companies offices, a park larger than New York City’s Central Park, along with hundreds of culinary, and touristic attractions. 

Where to stay safe in Mexico City?

Going back to the initial question… Is Mexico City safe? Well, it probably depends on the place you’re at. The city is divided in 16 municipalities (formerly boroughs). At the same time, the municipalities are divided into over 200 “colonias” (neighborhoods). Some neighborhoods are safer than others. 

Mexico City Safe
Aerial shoot of Polanco neighborhood

The modern and more wealthy areas of the city are usually safer. For instance, neighborhoods including Roma, Condesa, Juárez, and Polanco are full with restaurants and bars. They are safe to visit during daytime and nighttime. Other areas are a bit more tricky. For instance, if we talk about the “Centro Histórico” (i.e. Historical Center), there’s areas that are very tourist-friendly during the daytime, but that is probably better not to visit at night. Furthermore, wandering around Centro Histórico can easily lead to ending up in neighborhoods such as La Merced, which are better to avoid. There are also areas that are an absolute no-no. These include Tepito, La Colonia Doctores, Iztapalapa, and the bordering municipalities of Naucalpan and Ciudad Neza (which are both in the neighboring State of Mexico).

How to stay safe in Mexico City?

Mexico City has similar crime leves to those in American cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of State has no restrictions on their employees traveling to the city. They, however, do recommend to “Exercise Increased Caution”. At the end of the day, Mexico City is a megapolis. It’s good to exercise the level of cautious you’d exercise in any other big city. Here’s some risks tourists might encounter and my advice (again, as a local) on how to tackle them.

Is Theft an Issue?

Mexico City Safe
It’s important to be specially careful in crowded areas of Mexico City.

Theft and pickpocketing are common issues in Mexico City. This means having your personal items as close to your body as possible is the best bet. Cross-body bags with zippers are a good option (and, as a local, whenever I go to places with big crowds, like festivals or the underground, I tend to tie a jacket around the bag as well… just in case).

It is also imperative to be careful with your cash. It’s probably better not to carry around all the cash you have for the trip with you every single day and to keep the cash you’re carrying in different locations (e.g. your bag and front pocket). When it comes to ATMs, it’s safer to use those inside malls and shops and to try to always withdraw money during daytime and be discrete while doing so. Lastly, it’s better not to walk around with expensive jewelry or watches (i.e. don’t flash the bling) and to keep any electronics inside your bag. If for some reason you end up getting robbed at gunpoint, it’s better to let the robber take the things they want. It might be frustrating, but it’s not worth risking your personal safety for any objects.

What About Petty Scams?

Just as other touristic destinations, Mexico City is not exempt of street scams. Some common ones include a person approaching you and saying they had some sort of issue and asking to make a call with your phone… right before running away with it. Others have to do with fake tickets outside entertainment events and fake bills. It’s always good to buy any sort of ticket from a reputable source and check your change. Lastly, always stay way from people doing “magic tricks” or asking you to sign petitions.

Are Water and Food Safe for Consumption?

Mexico City Safe
Street food stall in Mexico City

Even though traditional Mexican cuisine is an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, and Mexico City offers hundreds of reputable places to eat, it’s always good to take some safety measures. First and foremost, please don’t drink water straight from the tap. Even though the city does use purifying water plants, water still travels through old pipelines that may contain metals and bacteria. Either filtered or bottled water are the safest options. If you’re staying at an AirBnB, for instance, you could get a 20-liter reusable bottle to drink throughout your stay. Well-stablished restaurants do serve clean, drinkable water, so that shouldn’t be a concern. Water and ice offered in street stalls, on the other hand should better be avoided.

Food poisoning might also be an issue and could happen even at well stablished restaurants (as in any other city). When it comes to streets stalls, it’s probably wise to always go to those with large amounts of locals eating. If the place is popular, the food is probably good quality (and affordable). As a tip, take a look at the way food is cooked anyway.

Lastly, when it comes to alcoholic drinks, always watch what was put in your cup. If you’ve ordered anything bottled, make sure the bar tender or waiter opened it right in front or your eyes. 

How to get around? What’s the safest transportation?

Mexico City Safe
Mexico City’s Underground

I’ll go straight to the point here. Getting around Mexico City can be chaotic. “Chilangos” (the nickname Mexico City residents have) are reckless when it comes to driving. Traffic is insane and public transport is heavily crowded and not always that safe, so watch out. If you decide to drive, be highly cautious, specially at crossings, intersections, and red lights. Also try to keep the car’s windows shut and doors locked, since robberies might indeed happen in certain areas.

If you decide to use public transportation, I’d recommend the underground at non-rush hours since it’s the fastest and cheapest way of moving around the city. Be aware though, that during rush hours it is highly crowded and pickpocketing is common. If you’re a female, you can benefit from the “Women Only” carriage. There is also a bus rapid transit system with 7 routes and a huge number of buses and minivans around the city. I wouldn’t recommend any of these though, due to the high number of both, pickpocketing and armed robberies in these means of transportation.

Another option to move around the city are taxis and private cars. If you decide to take a taxi, make sure it is from an official taxi base and that it is white and pink and has the letters “CDMX” printed on it. Try not to stop taxis in the street and either phone or walk to a taxi base instead.

There’s a phenomenon called “Express Kidnappings” .which consists on (usually fake) taxis temporarily abducting the passenger and forcing them to withdraw money from an ATM. The chances of experiencing an express kidnapping is slim, but still present and another danger of taxis is the driver trying to charge the passenger more than they should. This kind of incidents can be avoided by using Ubers, Cabifys, or another service named “Didi”, which are all very affordable in Mexico City if you compare them to prices in some American or European cities.

Should You Worry About Natural Disasters and the Environment?

Smog in metropoltan area
Smog in Mexico City

Devastating earthquakes have hit Mexico City in the last 100 years. The most recent one being on September 19th, 2017. Mexico City is in constant danger of suffering another earthquake, but so is, for instance California. If you’d like to have more peace of mind while visiting, you can always download an app such as SkyAlert, which sends out a warning before the earthquake hits, giving you time to react. The city also has a system of speakers connected to the National Seismological System. These speakers also alert people before quakes. It’s also good to know the safest areas inside a building and emergency exits, again, just in case.

Mexico City is also famous for its high levels of air pollution. The government has taken different measurements to reduce these levels since the 1990s. However, smog is still visible in the city several days a month. According to The Guardian, in 2016, the levels of air pollution in Mexico City were twice as high as the WHO recommends. Nevertheless, the city’s air pollution is sill comparable to that in Sao Paulo, Paris, Prague, and Brussels.

Other general tips to remain safe in Mexico City include trying to learn a bit of Spanish to make it easier to move around, trying to blend in as much as possible, carrying around copies of any important documents (i.e. passport) with you. Which, in my opinion, are tips you should follow regardless of where you travel. 

Paseo de la Reforma
Paseo de la Reforma, an important touristic spot.

My conclusion?

So in conclusion, is Mexico City safe? Well, most of the risks involved with visiting Mexico City are also involved with visiting any other megapolis. As long as you’re always aware, and avoid any dodgy areas, nothing should stop you from having a great time!

If you want to read more about culture, go here!

Millennial Humor: Sad and Bizarre

Millennial humor

A mix of circumstances has made, us millennials, uncertain, sad, and anxious about our current state and future. But that, somehow, also gave us a rather odd humor. A humor so dark and bizarre that only generations living after pretty bad events in history, such as World War I have had. Let’s see who even are millennials; what hurt us so bad; other generations with a weird humor; the pillars of millennial humor; memes; and how brands are exploiting all of this.

Who are millennials? What affects our sense of humor?

Millennials are the generation that was born between 1980 and 2000. We are the first “digital native” generation. In addition, we saw the birth of iPods, iPhones, and social media networks. We lived through the “Disney Decade” and watched MTV in the 1990s and early 2000s. Globalization is a normal (and integral) part of our lives.

At the same time, though, we’re much more hopeless and uncertain about the future than the generation before us. Although we grew up with Disney and MTV, we also witnessed 9/11. We saw the very first iPhone launch, but also underwent the 2008 financial crisis. We’re more politically and religiously dissatisfied than young adults were 25 years ago. American millennials have at least 300% more student debt than their parents but are half as likely to ever own a house. Oh, and to add to the uncertainty, climate change, an issue we partially inherited from previous generations will be pretty much irreversible by 2040 (so, cheers for that, Boomers).   

Our way of seeing the world and sense of humor are the product of all the aforementioned circumstances. We are fearful, disillusioned, and anxious. And instead of searching for meaning or certainty, we tend to play and joke with our rather miserable emotions.

Dadaism and Absurdist Humor. How do they relate to millennials?

We are certainly not the first generation that uses humor to deal with uncertainty and an overwhelming political, social, and economic climate. After World War I, a group of European leftists started rejecting the conventional notions of art and exchanged the aestheticism of warmongering for absurdity and irrationality. This movement was called Dadaism. It served as an attempt to express people’s frustration regarding the world after the war.

Millennial humor - dadaism
Book cover for Dadaismus, by Dietmar Elger, featuring “L.H.O.O.Q.”, a piece of art by Marcel Duchamp. “L.H.O.O.Q.” is a clear expression of Dadaism.

Interestingly enough, another movement, called Neo-Dadaism was born after the Cold War. Neo-Dadaism was a response to the consumer culture and mass media of the 1950s and 1960s. It used non-traditional audiovisual manifestations and popular imagery with an absurdist contrast to both mock and celebrate consumer culture. 

Millennials still use absurdist humor to express how disillusioned we are when it comes to the state of the world. Absurdist millennial humor is primarily shared on the internet, which allows interactivity on different platforms and collaboration amongst different users. This can include the creation and sharing of bizarre, ironic, or obscure memes (we’ll get into that later in the article).

The “Pillars” of Millennial Sense of Humor

Marla Tabaka, from inc.com, brilliantly summarized three characteristics that could be seen as integral parts of the millennial sense of humor. These are: 

  • Absurdity: The kind of stuff millennials find funny might seem completely senseless to other generations. As previously mentioned, we enjoy absurdist humor because of the escapism and freedom of expression regarding frustration it helps us achieve. What we share and create online might be bizarre and ridiculous, but it’s not as bad as real life.   
  • Universality: According to Tabaka’s conclusions, people can look at a specific picture or expression in a meme and immediately understand and relate to what the author is trying to express. She also says this creates a sense of community amongst the “meme-viewers”, even if they do not personally know each other. We enjoy relating to other people’s lives, even if we have never met the other people.
  • Self-deprecation: According to the author, we have embraced self-deprecation because it helps us to relate with the people we’re interacting with. Self-deprecation is also usually communicated using memes. 
Millennial humor
Meme featuring absurd, universal, and self-depreciating features.

Tabaka uses the following example to show the three “pillars”: a meme showing two photos of Gollum, from Lord of the Rings. One is a “normal” Gollum, and the other one shows Gollum with eyeliner and red lipstick. Above the photo there is a text saying “When bae asks for a pic at 2am but you already took your makeup off and then you remember that one app you got”. She states the whole thing is absurd because we do not look like Gollum. It’s universal because most of us want to look good. Lastly, it is self-depreciating because of the implication we look like Gollum in the first place.

Here’s yet another example:

Memes, lol

Millennials are very used to the internet and most of our “culture” comes from it. The internet’s ability to nurture collaboration makes it the perfect place for displaying our sense of humor and the maximum expression of our sense of humor online are memes.

A meme, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations”. The concept of internet memes first started to become popular in the 1990s. However, an article published by the BBC states that it wasn’t until the mid 2000s (2007/2008, to be more specific) that memes started portraying the reality and frustration millennials deal with. The mid 2000s were key because of the 2008 financial crisis. Memes became an outlet for millennials to express their insecurities during the time. They allowed users to share their thoughts and worries with others and get a response almost immediately. Before this, memes mainly consisted of puns and images of cute animals (i.e. cats).

Here’s some examples of those thoughts and worries (all in the form of tweets):

https://twitter.com/vitqls/status/1103890693171212288
https://twitter.com/hoegenic/status/1101211185427480577

Exploiting the millennial sense of humor

Interestingly, and perhaps also obviously, marketers are now targeting millennials, the current largest consumer group in the US, with humor (and thus memes)… after all, if they want millennials to listen and establish relationships with them, they’ll have to speak their language. An example is Wendy’s (the fast food chain) on Twitter, which has become famous for its savage tweets and on-point jokes:

When done correctly, using memes in advertising can be very effective. Advertisers need to be aware of the latest trends and should always avoid being too “over-promotional”. In addition, any content must be actually be funny and advertisers must always make sure they fully understand the meaning of any given meme. 

In addition to advertising, companies have started exploiting the millennial humor  in some less expected ways. An example is FuckJerry/Jerry Media. FuckJerry is an Instagram account that managed to grow into a production and marketing company named Jerry Media (they’ve been involved in a scandals including  Fyre Festival, but that’s another story). The company released a card game called “What do you meme?”. 

The game basically consists of a set of graphic cards with a popular meme each, and a deck of cards with some sort of phrase (i.e. caption cards). People then take turns to become the round’s judge. The judge places the graphic card in a small easel. Then, the rest of the players choose the caption card that they think better fits or complements the chosen meme. The judge then chooses the funniest card, and the person that played it wins the round. The game is an interesting experience. It basically summarizes most of the points shown in this article: millennial’s cynicism, how millennial humor is basically universal and how absurd and self-depreciating it is:

Video review for “What do you meme?”

If you want to read more about memes (The Ugandan Chungus in specific), you can go here. In the meantime, enjoy this gallery (featuring images from “Casual Nihilism™” on Facebook):

Synesthesia: a Mixture of Senses

synesthesia

What is Synesthesia?

“Synesthesia” or “Synaesthesia” comes from the Greek expressions syn, which means “union” and aesthesis, which translates to “sensation”. Putting these two words together would translate to something similar to “union of sensations” or “union of senses”. It is a condition in which the stimulation of one sense triggers another one. For example, a person with synesthesia (i.e. a synesthete), could hear music and, at the same time, sense color patterns or swirls. The condition differs from a hallucination since it does not stop individuals from seeing.

Music, color synesthesia
Graphic representation of synesthesia.

There are up to 80 types of synesthesia and each of them involves a different combination of senses. In addition, there are also researches that consider other connections and/or associations as types of synesthesia. This, for instance, could include relating objects to genders, personalities to numbers, or assigning spatial locations to months and days. 

Different studies suggest there are different amounts of people with the condition. Some of them state there is one synesthete for every 200 people. Others suggest there is one synesthete for every 100,000. Researchers also believe that there might be people with synesthesia who have no idea they have it or do not know the condition exists. 

So… What causes synesthesia?

Synesthesia is intriguing for both scientists and neurologists. It is a biological phenomenon that is different from both hallucinations and metaphors. There are several different theories that try to explain what causes the condition. Unluckily, its true causes are still unexplained.

Synesthesia neural connections

One of the theories trying to explain synesthesia, proposed by researchers at Cambridge University, suggests that the condition is the result of “an overabundance of neural connections”. According to the research, in non-synesthetes, different senses are usually “assigned” to different modules in the human brain and there is little co-communication between them. In the case of synesthetes, there is apparently communication between the different modules. Researchers at Cambridge University also studied DNA from different family individuals with synesthesia. There was one commonality between them: they all shared a gene enhancement regarding cell migration and axonogenesis (i.e. the process in which brain cells link to their partners). Other researches also believe the condition is more common in women than men. This has led them to speculate that the condition is related to the X chromosome. 

Other theories state that everyone is born with the necessary neural connections to allow synesthesia, but that the condition fades away as people grow older. In this same theory, it is believed that children experience the world in the same way synesthete adults do. A variation of this theory suggests that babies do not have five senses, but one that puts together the whole amount of stimulation they receive.

There are also theories that state that synesthesia may be learned through training or hypnosis; that synesthesia is only the result of learned associations created by synesthetes; and that it may arise when children are going through tough learning tasks. Some other people might experience synesthesia while doing psychedelic drugs, after having a stroke, or as a result of blindness or deafness.

Diagnosing synesthesia

Person synesthesia

An official method for diagnosing synesthesia does not exist. However Richard Cytowic, a neurologist, author, and researcher, developed a series of guidelines to help recognize the condition:

  • Synesthesia is involuntary and automatic: those with the condition do not think of their perceptions. They just happen automatically.
  • Synesthetes usually project sensations outside the mind: when asked to imagine a color, synesthetes, for instance, usually see the color projected outside their body, rather than “inside their minds”.
  • Synesthetes’ perceptions are always consistent and generic: “Consistent” means that a synesthete’s perception must be the same every time they experience it. So, if a song is a certain color, the synesthete must perceive that same color every time they listen to the song. “Generic” means that synesthetes see simple shapes, lines, or colors as a response to stimuli. They do not see complex images or scenes as a response to the stimuli.
  • Synesthesia is memorable: Synesthetes usually remember their “synesthetic perception” better that the primary perception that triggered the synesthetic perception. So, if a synesthete, for instance, relates color red to number 7, they will always the number is rd, rather than remembering “number 7”.
  • Synesthesia is emotional: synesthetic perceptions can cause emotional reactions. These reactions can be pleasurable for the synesthete.

Kinds of synesthesia

There are more than 60 types of synesthesia. Most synesthetes experience at least two forms of the condition. 

Grapheme color synesthesia
Representation of colors grapheme-color synesthetes may see when seeing numbers or letters.

The most common type of the condition is called “grapheme color synesthesia”. Synesthetes with grapheme color synesthesia associate numbers and letters to specific colors. Daniel Smilek, a researcher at the University of Waterloo, classifies grapheme color synesthetes in two overall groups: projectors and associators. Projectors see the colors they relate certain numbers or letters with, filling the numbers/letters right in front of their eyes. Associators, on the other hand, feel a strong connection between the number or letter they are seeing and the color they relate the number or letter to. There are publications that state these two categories apply to all synesthetes, not just those with grapheme color synesthesia.  

Some types of synesthesia other than grapheme color include “ordinal linguistic personification synesthesia”, in which synesthetes relate numbers, days of the week, and months to personalities; “spatial sequence synesthesia”, where synesthetes perceive numbers, months, days of the week as having precise locations in space or see the year as a map; “music-color synesthesia”, when synesthetes see music as color in the air; “mirror touch synesthesia”, which causes synesthetes to feel as if they are being touched when they see something happening to someone else; “lexical-gustatory synesthesia”, where synesthetes taste words; or “tactile-emotion synesthesia”, where synesthetes feel that specific textures cause specific emotions.

Other “mixtures” of senses or stimuli include: flavors with colors; pain with colors; emotions with colors; emotions with smells; flavors with sounds; personalities with smells; temperatures with sounds; touch with smells; or shapes with flavors. The different combinations are extremely diverse.

Who has synesthesia? Famous synesthetes 

Research done by the University of California has shown that synesthetes tend to have higher levels of creativity than non-synesthetes. This can be perhaps proved by the large amount of artists that claim to have the condition. 

The list of artists with some sort of synesthesia includes people dating back to the 1800s. Examples of synesthetes include Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter born in Moscow in 1866. He started being fascinated by colors from a young age and could hear a hissing sound when playing with paints in his childhood. For him, music and colors were tied to each other and each note represented a specific color hue. Kandinsky used colors, lines, shapes, and textures to create a “rhythmic visual experience”. His pieces are now exhibited in museums all around the world. Some of his work has also been animated in modern times:

Some other examples of synesthetes include Amy Beach, an American composer born in 1867. Beach associated color and tone. For her, C Major was white, E Major was yellow, G Major was red, A Major was green, Ab Major was blue, Db Major was violet, and, lastly, Eb major was pink. F-Sharp and G-Sharp were both black. Ever since she was a child, Beach would ask for music pieces by their color (i.e. she would ask her parents to play “blue” or “pink” music). Furthermore, when someone dared to transpose one of her songs, she would state the person had devastated the mood and character of the piece due to the very specific color and key associations she had designed when writing the song. 

Artists have stated they have some sort of synesthesia in recent times as well. Lorde and Kanye West, amongst others, have talked about the way the condition affects them. In the case of Lorde, she can see certain colors when she hears specific notes. The NME reported a Q&A in which the artist explained there’s even been cases in which songs feel so “tan” that she has decided to work to make them “green”. She has talked about her condition in several interviews:

According to Pitchfork, Kanye West sees pianos as being blue, while bass lines are brown and purple. Furthermore, he also talked about the condition on an interview with Surface Magazine in 2016. In this interview, Kanye even stated he has paintings and drawings from high school in which he was trying to show what the sounds surrounding him looked like. 

There are also some smaller artists that create and sell canvases representing certain songs visually. An example of this is Melissa McCracken, an artist from Missouri. McCracken translates a song’s tempo, notes, or chord progression to shapes, colors and textures to create extraordinary paintings: 

If you would like to know if you have any type of synesthesia, there is an online test you can take. In the meantime, there’s more culture-related articles you can read here.

The Origins of the UGANDAN CHUNGUS

Ugandan Chungus

Chungus

The word chungus was used by Jim Sterling, a Video game freelance journalist who made use of this word in various meanings without giving it a particular definition. The date which the word chungus was first mentioned has not been publicly disclosed, although it is estimated to be within December 2012.

Whidmark keyed in an entry for the word changes on December 26th, 2012, with the aim of giving it a precise definition. He defined chungus stating that “chungus is a word that means everything and anything.”

Ugandan Knuckles

Ugandan Knuckles

The knuckles are a gaming character that is connected with sonic the hedgehog series. Just like Bug bunny belongs to the warner bros,  knuckles belong to Sega. The knuckles made his first appearance in sonic the hedgehog 3 and made the top of the gaming chart thereby earning a top bill with the Sega flagship star titled sonic & knuckles. Sonic gamers will know the little difference between the Knuckles and sonic which is the fact that Sonic is the swift and speedy one while the Knuckles is the strong but slower one.

You may be wondering how the Ugandan version took over, and I’ll briefly explain to you the reasons for the adoption of that name “Ugandan knuckles.” which I wrote an article about. The truth be told that the Ugandan knuckles have its inspiration partly from the film titled” who killed captain Alex”?. This movie is a low budget action and comedy movie that was released in Uganda in 2010. The beautiful and unique aspect of the merging of these two names Ugandan with knuckles became popular due to the phrase used in the movie. The catchphrase was “Do you know the way” which also has an African accent pronounced as “ Do you know de wey “?.  

The Ugandan knuckles gradually became popular through an app called VRChat. This app is a virtual reality social gaming app that has a 3D model in place.  A lot of users populated the VRChat with numerous Ugandan knuckles and made use of the same phrase( do you know de wey). Some users made use of clucking sounds, to imitate the sounds of the southern African language’s. Its popularity grew so wide and advanced higher into other games like the “player unknown Battlegrounds and in some tee-shirts, with the ascription of the catchphrase “De wey” boldly printed on it.

Big Chungus

The image of the big chungus was first paired by GaryThetaco, a popular Redditor. It was published on the 20th of March 2018 but didn’t go public until December 1st, 2018 where it was posted to /r/comedy heaven.

 The full story of the Big chungus was narrated by GaryThetaco who explained in details the fact that the meme was first sent to a friend in Class out of boredom. The narrator stated that he didn’t think that much of it but just did it out of boredom. During the summer period, he sent it to another friend who liked the idea and saw it as something hilarious. His friends compliment made him create Big chungus 2 and 3. Ideas were coming in which later led him into posting it on r/comedy heaven. Fortunately for him, it got some traction in that platform and gradually went more viral through a young kid who had asked his mom to buy him a Big chungus.

It is very obvious that the Big chungus is a fat bug bunny PlayStation 4 game that gained its popularity because a mother requested the game from a GameStop.

THE MERGING OF THE NAMES UGANDAN KNUCKLES AND THE BIG CHUNGUS.

The new trend in the meme world is the Ugandan Chungus which is a combination of both meme characters, Ugandan knuckles and big chungus. The new meme called the Ugandan chungus has the features of the Big chungus body and the face and color of the Ugandan knuckles. The Ugandan chungus has a white underbelly and a red fur. It also has two long rabbit ears and a big red stripe painted across its chest. They are very chubby and have two different spikes in each fist.

It’s origin started from December 21st, 2018 where a virgin versus Chad meme compared the Ugandan knuckles to the Big chungus. This comparison was submitted to the /r/BigChungus subreddit. A Redditor whose name was Romboteryx wrote in the comment section the statement “ Now image this: Ugandan chungus.”

In the 23rd of that same month of December, a Redditor named Rubychan_42 submitted his Photoshop of both the Big chungus and the Ugandan knuckles color. This photoshop was amazing, and it has its caption as “Ugandan chungus.”

On that same month of December, a Redditor named CabbageLord10 submitted another picture comprising of both characters Ugandan knuckles and the Big chungus. His caption was different from the other redditors, and it was “ladies and gentlemen I show to you the Ugandan chungus.” The whole crowd marveled at this, and just within the interval of 4days, the post had over 44,300 points. A report was released stating that his caption had over 84% upvoted and over 580 comments on /r/memes/.

Entering a new year, a youtuber Morton on the 1st of January 2019 uploaded a personal edit of the Big chungus Looney tunes. This Looney tune was edited with the Ugandan knuckles. On the same day of the edition, the Youtuber Hyena626 uploaded on the VRChat footage of the Ugandan chungus avatars. On that same day, another Redditor named TitanBrass submitted his own picture of the Ugandan chungus with a title saying “ Thanks, I definitely hate the existence of anything relating to the Ugandan chungus. He submitted this title to the /r/TIHI subreddit.

Video uploaded by Hyena626

On the 3rd of January lushsux posted on Instagram a photograph of a mural and it featured a Ugandan chungus which stood in front of a background that had flames all around it. He gave his Own description titled” My hell vision in this 2019”. His post gained more than 13,400 likes in less than 24 hours.

The primary word said by the Ugandan chungus is ” Do you know de wey”?. We are not sure if they have another word they say or if they have another sound that they make. We believe that the saying do you know de wey? Is just a way of them making noise and communicating.

The Ugandan chungus which exist both on the Reddit platform and on VRChat got its name from the remark given by the redditors. One thing that is common among the redditors and the name Ugandan chungus is that all of them dropped a different title or a different caption which later went viral. Starting from the first redditor to the last one, they all played a key role in merging both the name Ugandan knuckles and the Big chungus together which gave rise to the new name “Ugandan chungus.”

Day of the Dead – Día de Muertos

Day of the Dead

Different communities in Mexico have different traditions, mannerisms, and beliefs. However, there is one tradition celebrated universally in the country: Day of the Dead. When it comes to  its relationship to death, Mexico is probably one of the most unique places on Earth. Death is respected… But also accepted, and celebrated. All of this is shown in Day of the Dead.

As its name may tell, Day of the Dead is a celebration that venerates people who have died. It is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. According to the tradition, the souls of children who have passed visit our world during November 1st. On the other hand, the souls of adults arrive on November 2nd.

The origins of day of the dead date from the Pre-hispanic period. Nevertheless, it is heavily influenced by Catholicism and European traditions taken to Mexico during the country’s colonization period. It nowadays incorporates modern elements and foreign traditions as well.

Origins of Day of the Dead: A Pre-Hispanic Tradition

Pre-hispanic Day of the Dead
Man dressed up in a traditional pre-Hispanic attire during Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City.

The origins of Day of the Dead are traced to the Mesoamerican cultures that inhabited Mexico before the Spanish conquest. These cultures included Aztecs in Central Mexico, Mayas in the Southeast, and Purepechas in the West, amongst others. Different tribes had Gods that were directly related to death, which showed death as an entity with its own personality. Aztecs had Mictlantecúhtli, the Lord of Death. Mayas had Ah Puch (sometimes also called Yum-Kimil or Hun Ahau), the king of the underworld, who was often represented as a skeleton with a jaguar’s head.

Mesoamerican tribes used to remember those who had passed by taking flowers and food to their burial places. Tribes used to do this for four years after the death of the person. In the case of Aztecs, the tribe believed that after dying, a person could end up in different places: Mictlán, Tlalocan, Tonatiuh ichan, and Cincalco. Here’s more of each of them:

Mictlán: The Underworld

Day of the Dead Mictlan
Aztec sculpture representing Mictlantecúhtli.

According to the Aztecs, Mictlán, the underworld, was ruled by Mictlantecúhtli, the God of Death. Mictlantecúhtli was sometimes also called “The Lord of the Underworld”. All the people who died of natural causes or diseases that were considered “non-sacred” ended up in Mictlán. The place had nine levels. Those who died and ended up there had to undergo a series of challenges to go from the first to the ninth level. Dogs used to guide the dead through this passage.

Tlalocan: Tlaloc’s Paradise 

Tlalocan was a place ruled by Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain. Only those whose deaths were related to thunder, water, leper, gout, or other diseases related to Tlaloc ended up there. Tlalocan was full of food and rejoice.

Tonatiuh ichan: House of the Sun

Tonatiuh ichan is the place where warriors killed in combat and women who died giving birth (who were also seen as warriors killed in combat) went. After four years of being in Tonatiuh ichan, the dead would become birds (usually hummingbirds) and go to earth to pollinate flowers.

Cincalco: Children’s Paradise

Cincalco, the home of Tonacatecuhtli, the God of Fertility and Creation, was the place where young children who had passed use to go to. The place was full of trees, fruits, and flowers. 

Pre-hispanic tribes used to maintain bonds with those who had passed and were in the aforementioned places. Different dead people were thought to have different roles in important acts for the community. The dead were invoked for magic rituals, support in hunting, harvesting, or combat, and their presence in important events such as births.

In Pre-hispanic times, the dead used to be buried with jewels, vessels with food and water. Sometimes, other elements that could help the person on their way to Mictlan were also included. Regular citizens used to be buried with dogs that would work as a guide on their way to the other world. On the other hand, governors and upper-class individuals used to get buried with slaves to have company on their way. 

Day of the Dead after the arrival of the Spanish Conquerors

When the Spanish conquerors arrived in America in the 15th Century, they were terrified by the death-related practices of the Mesoamerican tribes. In an attempt to convert these tribes to Catholicism, the Spanish adapted All Saints’ Day to the celebrations and traditions the tribes used to have. In fact, lots of the traditions related to Day of the Dead still practiced today, date back to European traditions. 

Elements typically seen in Day of the Dead altars today, including candles, flowers, and incense all have a Catholic background. Furthermore, “Pan de Muerto” (which literally translates to “bread of the dead”), a type of bread baked during the weeks before Day of the Dead, probably originated in León, Aragón, and Castile, in Spain. People in these regions used to cook food that resembled bones during All Saints’ Day. Moreover, people in Santiago de Compostela and Galicia, leave their table set on December 31st. This is done so that family members that have died could go and share food with them. Something similar to this is what some people believe happens during Day of the Dead.

The “pagan” rituals and beliefs of the mesoamerican tribes, kept intertwining with European traditions little by little.

Day of the Day in Independent Mexico

Mexico officially gained its independence from Spain in 1821. Some historians state that little  time after the independence of the country, it was possible to find merchants selling clay skulls and candy skulls in public plazas in Mexico City. The concepts of “death” and “celebration” started to be related during this period. The tradition of decorating people’s tombs also started during this time. So did the tradition of visiting the tombs of the loved ones that had passed away during November 1st and 2nd. 

Day of the Dead Catrina
Figurine representing La Catrina.

After its independence, Mexico had different leaders. During their governments the gap between social classes kept growing. It was then when drawings of skulls and skeletons that critiqued the country’s situation started to emerge. These drawings were published in different newspapers and usually focused on mocking the upper classes.

The Birth of “La Catrina”

The most famous drawing that existed was called “La Calavera Garbancera”, which then evolved to become “La Catrina”. The closest translation to “La Calavera Garbancera” is “The Garbancera Skull”. A “Garbancero” (if we’re talking about a male) or “Garbancera” (if we’re referring to a female), is a person with indigenous roots that pretends to be European. Thus rejecting their actual heritage. It was common for journalists to mock this kind of people. 

“La Calavera Garbancera” is usually represented as the upper torso of a skeleton dressed with an elegant dress and a big hat with feathers. This hat was designed to represent people that wanted to show off and pretend they had more goods or money than they actually did. Sometimes these skulls were also shown riding horses, or in socialite parties. These all intended to show the hypocrisy of the upper classes.  

From “La Calavera Garbancera” to “La Catrina”

The name of “La Calavera Garbancera” ended up changing to “La Catrina” or “La Calavera Catrina” in the early 20th Century. This was due to Diego Rivera, a Mexican painter (and Frida Kahlo’s husband). One of Rivera’s murals, “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central” (which translates to something similar to “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central”) featured a “full-body” “Calavera Garbancera”, rather than just the torso that used to be depicted earlier in history. Rivera decided to name the skeleton “La Catrina” after the word “catrín”, which depicts an elegant, well-dressed man. 

Day of the Dead Catrina
Common graphic representation of La Catrina.

“La Catrina” plays an important role in the contemporary Day of the Dead celebrations, and its image can be found in paintings, clay figures, and the so-called “papel picado”. People also write short poems or verses called “Calaveritas Literarias” or “Literary Calaveritas”. These literary compositions are usually irreverent and talk about living people as if they were dead. They usually feature “La Catrina”, depict the reality and attributes of a person or situation, and in occasions narrate the fictitious way in which the person the piece is about “died” (“La Catrina” usually always “takes” them with her). 

In one way or another “La Catrina” is there to remind us that it doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor, lucky or unlucky, we will all die in the end (but, like, in a funny way). 

Day of the Dead Today

UNESCO named Day of the Dead “Intangible cultural heritage” back in 2003. However, the tradition keeps evolving and has become more commercial in the last years. With more people celebrating Halloween in Mexico, and people celebrating Day of the Dead in countries such as the US, it is now common for the two celebrations to intertwine. Day of the Dead-themed ornaments and costumes have become “accessible” in American departmental stores such as Target or online retailers such as Amazon. Fashion magazines such as Marie Claire now publish articles featuring candy skull makeup tutorials. And Day of the Dead has been featured in Hollywood mega projects including Disney’s animated film “Coco” and Columbia Pictures’ and MGM’s “Spectre”: 

By the way, the Day of the Dead parade wasn’t a thing until James Bond made it a thing, I mean, it’s still quite cool though)… 

Beliefs related to Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead Beliefs
Day of the Dead altar.

Going back to the more traditional side of Day of the Dead, there are certain beliefs directly related to the tradition. People believe the souls of those who have passed away visit our world during the period of the Day of the Dead celebrations. 

As previously mentioned, Day of the Dead is more commonly and widely celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, which are All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively. However, there are certain regions in which the celebrations start earlier, on October 28th, since they believe different types of souls arrive on days other than November 1st and 2nd:

  • 28th of October: the day in which those who were killed in an accident or had a sudden and violent death arrive.
  • 29th of October: the day in which those who drowned arrive.
  • 30th of October: the day in which this who are not remembered by any friends or family arrive (e.g. orphans).
  • 31st of October: the day in which those who were not baptized arrive.
  • 1st of November: the day in which children who have perished arrive.
  • 2nd of November: the day in which those adults who have passed away arrive. 

It is believed that the souls arrive in our world every 12 hours during these days. In addition, these dates match with the arrival of thousands of monarch butterflies that emigrate from Canada to Mexico to survive winter time. Mesoamerican cultures such as the Aztecs believed the souls of those who had perished could come back to this world in the shape of either butterflies or humming birds. Thus this massive migration is often related to the tradition as well.

Elements of Day of the Dead

There are some tangible elements that are quite characteristic of Day of the Dead. These include “altares” (or altars), “calaveritas de azúcar” (or sugar skulls), flores de cempasúchil (or Aztec marigold), “papel picado” (or perforated paper), “pan de muerto” (or bread of the dead),  “xoloescuincles” (or Xolo dogs), and cemeteries. Let’s explore each of them:

Altares (Altars)

Day of the Dead Altar
Traditional Day of the Dead altar including several levels.

One of the most important elements of Day of the Dead, are the altars built to honor those who have passed. Depending on the region, people might start setting up altars as early as October 28th. Altars usually have two, three, or seven “levels” or “floors”. If an altar has two levels, these represent heaven and earth each. If it has three levels, they represent heaven, earth, and the underworld. Lastly, 7-level altars represent the different stages our should must go through to rest in peace. 

Each level or floor is covered with clothes, papel picado, and palm leaves. Furthermore, each of them has a different meaning. People usually place a religious figurine or image on the highest level. They then place candles or lights in the second higher level. Salt is then placed on the third highest level. This is done to make sure that the dead people’s souls remain pure during their trip between worlds. Pan de muerto is placed on the fourth level. People afterwards place the dead person’s/people’s favorite dishes, along with fruit on the fifth level. They then put photographs of the dead person(s) on the sixth level. Lastly, flowers, petals, seeds, or fruits forming a catholic cross are put on the lowest level.

Calaveritas de azúcar (Sugar skulls)

Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls
Traditional sugar skulls.

“Calaveritas”, which translates to “skulls”, were a traditional element of ancient altars related to death among different mesoamerican cultures. These altars, called “Tzompantli” had rows of skulls that used to belong to those who were sacrificed to the gods. 

After the Spanish arrived, skull-shaped “alfeñiques” (objects made of sugar paste) became popular. These sugar skulls are still commonly made for the modern Day of the Dead celebrations. They are made with sugar, hot water, and lemon, which creates a paste similar to caramel. This paste is molded into the shape of a skull. The “alfeñique” is then decorated with vegetable coloring. In addition these skulls might have name written on their foreheads. If the skull has the name of someone who has perished, it means that the person is remembered by their family. If the name has the name of someone that is still alive, it means that their family or friends are saving a place for them in the underworld. 

Skulls made out of materials other than sugar paste are also common in Mexico. These materials include clay and Papier-mâché. 

Flores de Cempasúchil (Aztec marigolds)

Day of the Day Aztec Marigold
Flores de Cempasúchil or Aztec marigolds.

Flores de Cempasúchil, which are called “Aztec marigolds” in English, are fundamental for Day of the Dead celebrations. They are usually orange or yellow and might be up to 110 cm tall. These flowers have had an important role since Pre-Hispanic times. Remains of the plant have been found in different ceremonial sites. Furthermore, Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec goddess of moon was usually represented as having Aztec marigolds on her head ornaments. It is believed that Aztec marigolds act as a guide for the souls returning to this world due to their vibrant color and strong smell.

Each year, around nine thousand tons of Aztec marigolds are harvested in Mexico. This represents a revenue of around $90 million Mexican pesos ($4.5 million USD dollars). Most of these flowers are harvested in Puebla, a state in Central Mexico. 

Papel Picado (perforated paper)

Day of the Dead Papel Picado
Papel picado or perforated paper.

Perforated paper, or “papel picado” is a type of Mexican handicraft that consists of different shapes manually cut out of a piece of paper using chisels and hammers. Papel picado is often used to decorate Day of the Dead altars (even though it can also be used as a decoration during other holidays, such as Independence Day). Its origins trace back to Huixcolotla, a town in the State of Puebla. It was created in the 1800s, when people at “haciendas” started working with the paper they used to wrap the products sold at the aforementioned haciendas. The tradition spread from Huixcolotla to the whole state of Puebla in the early 1900s and then became popular in Mexico City in the 1960s.

Papel picado comes in different colors and each of these has a different meaning. Orange means mourning; purple relates to Catholicism; blue represents deceased people who died in situations related to water; red stands for warriors killed in battle or women who died during labour; green is for those who died during their youth; white represents those who died during their childhood; yellow relates to the elderly; black represents the underworld.

Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

Day of the Dead Pan de Muerto
Pan de puerto or Bread of the Dead.

Pan de muerto is a type of sweetened bread usually baked a couple of weeks before, during, and a bit after Day of the Dead celebrations. Even though there are different types of pan de muerto, the most common one is shaped as a bun and has four little pieces of dough that resemble bones on top of it. Its shape (a circle) symbolizes the cycle of life, whereas the four little “bones” represent the four cardinal points. 

The origins of pan de muerto trace back to Pre-hispanic times. There are different versions of this, but one of them says that it originated when certain cultures used to do human sacrifices. One of these sacrifices consisted of removing the hearts of women (often royalty; princesses) and placing them in a pot with amaranth. The person leading the sacrifice would then bite the heart to show the Gods gratitude. The Spanish found the tradition horrifying and eventually prohibited it. They then started baking heart-shaped bread and covering it with sugar dyed in red. The shape and ingredients of the bread evolved until it became what it is today.

Xoloescuincles (Xolo dogs)

Day of the Dead Xolo Dog
Xoloescuincle or Xolo Dog.

Xolos are one of the oldest dog breeds on Earth. Their origins date to thousands of years ago. 

As it was mentioned before, ancient cultures in Mexico believed that people who died from “non-sacred” causes would end up in “Mictlán”, the underworld. Mictlán had nine levels that the perished had to go through. The first level of Mictlán, Itzcuintlan (or “place of the dogs”), was said to be placed next to a river that the dead had to cross to arrive in their next destination.

People needed the help of a Xolo dog to cross the river. Humans would then have to look for a brown dog that was willing to guide them through the river. The dog had to forcibly be brown since white dogs would tell the person they did not want to get dirty. Black dogs would tell them that they were too dark for the dead to see them. To make the journey easier for the deceased, they family would bury them with the remains of a Xolo dog.

The tradition of burying a dog with the deceased evolved, and it is now common to place a a figurine or photo of a Xolo dog in altars. 

Cemeteries

Day of the Dead Cemetery
Traditionally decorated cemetery at night.

It is common for Mexican communities to visit the graves of their deceased loved ones to clean them and place flowers and candles on top of them. In some places it is also common for people to set altars next to the graves and spend the night at the cemetery. When at the cemeteries, people usually pray, play music, eat and drink. 

Headed to Mexico? Best places to spend Day of the Dead

If you want to experience Day of the Dead in its birthplace, there’s towns and cities all over Mexico with specific ways of celebrating Día de Muertos. Here’s a few:

Mexico City

Mexico’s capital is home to several Day of the Dead attractions that go from parades to altars in public plazas. 

Day of the Dead Parade
Day of the Dead Parade
Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City.

As mentioned before, this tradition is actually new. It started in 2016, the year after the James Bond film “Specter” was premiered. The film’s opening scene features James Bond following a man around the streets of the centre of Mexico City while a Day of the Dead-themed parade is taking place. The film created such an expectation amongst its viewers that Mexico City’s authorities decided to actually organize the parade.

The parade starts in Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s most important avenues, and finishes at the “Zócalo”, the city’s main square. It has had different themes throughout the years. In 2016 it was divided in three different segments: “El viaje al Mictlá (Journey to Mictlán”, which depicted the pre-Hispanic traditions related to death; “La muerte Niña (translated to some similar to ‘Young Death’), which showed elements of  Day of the Dead after the conquerors arrived; and, lastly, “Pal’ Panteón (translated to something like “Going to the graveyard”)”, which showed different dancing “catrinas”.

In 2017, the parade was divided in two: a section called “La Muerte Viva (The Living Death)”, which depicted how death has been celebrated from pre-hispanic days until today, and a section focused on giant skull puppets. This year the parade also paid tribute to those killed during the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico.

Lastly, in 2018, the parade focused on immigration. Just as in the previous years, it had different sections. These included segments that payed tribute to those immigrants that contributed to the development of Mexico City, showed Mexico City as a refuge for immigrants, and talked about social progress in the city. 

Mixquic
Mixquic Day of the Dead
Mixquic celebrations at night.

While the Day of the Dead parade offers a very Hollywoodesque representation of the tradition, there’s places in Mexico City that show a more traditional side of it. One of these places is Mixquic, a site in the borough of Tlahuac, in Eastern Mexico City.

Every year, the inhabitants of Mixquic set altars, decorate the tombs of their loved ones, and carry out the so-called “Alumbrada”, which roughly translates to “Lightning”. The people of Mixquic place candles and lights all over the local cemetery, which along with the Cempasúchil flowers, “guide” the souls that are crossing to our world. 

Guanajuato

Guanajuato, a state in the North Centre of Mexico, is famous for its legends and mysticism. Several of its cities have specific ways of celebrating Day of the Dead.

Guanajuato City
Guanajuato Day of the Dead
Couple dressed up in Guanajuato, during Day of the Dead celebrations.

Guanajuato City, the state’s capital was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is famous for its tunnels, narrow streets and alleys, colonial mansions, and colorful buildings. The city is home to “Festival la Catrina Vive” (which translates to something similar to “Catrina Lives Festival”). Since its first edition in 2014, the festival has done activities that include a Catrina exhibition in the stairs of one of the city’s theaters; a “living Catrina” parade; the so-called “Callejoneadas Macabras” (group walks at night, where the group is accompanied by a band playing music, but with a spooky twist); a scary movie festival, amongst other activities.

The students of the city’s university also set a giant Day of the Dead altar on the stairs of the university. Lastly, artisans from different states have been gathering together for the last 11 years to put a giant Day of the Dead-themed flower carpet together.

San Miguel de Allende
Day of the Dead San Miguel de Allende
Costumes in San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende is another city in the state of Guanajuato. Just like Guanajuato City, San Miguel de Allende is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city has its very own Day of the Dead festival: “El Festival de la Calaca”, which translates to something similar to “The Skull’s Festival” or “The Skeleton’s Festival”. The festival consists of men and women dressed up as skulls walking and drinking around the city. Asides from this, there’s also guided visits to the city’s cemeteries, short film festivals, and handicraft markets, among other activities. 

Michoacán

Michoacán is a state located in Western Mexico. Some of its towns, are famous for their Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Pátzcuaro and Janitzio
Day of the Dead Michoacan
Cemetery at night in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán.

Located in the heart of the town of Pátzcuaro there’s a lake, and in the aforementioned lake there’s a little island called Janitzio. A purépecha community lives in the area. The cemeteries of Janitzio are lit by thousands of candles, and the community place flowers, candy, and food all over the tombs of their loved ones. Just as in other places in Mexico, the celebrations on November 1st are dedicated for those who died during their childhood years. November 2nd is dedicated to those who perished during their adulthood. 

Yucatán Península

The Yucatán Península is an area in Southern Mexico famous for Cancun, spring breakers, beautiful beaches, and lately… Day of the Dead, which is different than in other states because it is influenced by the Maya culture.

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo
Day of the Dead Xcaret
Day of the dead show in Xcaret, Riviera Maya.

Playa del Carmen is a city located in the Riviera Maya, a touristic area in Quintana Roo. Located in Playa del Carmen, there is a theme park called Xcaret. Xcaret has organized the “Festival de Vida y Muerte” or “Life and Death Festival” since 2016. The festival has theatre performances, dancers, and concerts. Furthermore, the festival features traditions from a specific Mexican state every year.

Cobá, Quintana Roo

Cobá is an archaeological site located in Quintana Roo. It was inhabited by the Mayas starting in 200 BC. What makes the place special is that its inhabitants have the tradition of exhuming the bones of their dead loved ones on Day of the Dead. They exhume the bones of their family members so that they can clean them and the niches where the bones are placed. The inhabitants of the see this as a way of spending time with those they love, even though they’re not actually physically together. 

Yucatán
Day of the Dead Merida
Dancers with skull makeup in Mérida, Yucatán.

Yucatán is one of the three states in the Yucatán Península. The state celebrates Hanal Pixán, the Maya term for “souls food”, a tradition that celebrates those who have perished. Just as in the other regions of Mexico, the Mayas used to believe the souls of those who has passed away could visit our world during Hanal Pixán. Yucatán organizes an event called “Paseo de las Ánimas” or “Walk of the Souls” in Mérida, its capital. The event consist of people with skull-themed makeup walking around the city.

Puebla

Day of the Dead Puebla
Skull figurine in Puebla

Puebla, as previously mentioned, is a state in Central Mexico. It is home to a variety of traditions and towns that celebrate Day of the Dead in a unique way. 

Chignahuapan

Chignahuapan is a town in Northern Puebla. The town has a lagoon, where the “Light and Life” festival takes place every Day of the Dead. The festival consists of a representation of the path the dead must follow when they perish. The representation, which literally takes place in the middle of the lagoon, has tenths of actors and lights, together with candles floating in the water, boats, and music. In addition to the representation, there is also a a tradition called “El camino de las mil luces” or “Path of a thousand lights”. This tradition consists of hundreds of people walking for the town center to the lagoon. The whole crowd carries torches and flowers. 

Atlixco de las Flores

Atlixco de las Flores is a town in Western Puebla, it is located at the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano. Even though it was heavily damaged by the 2017 Puebla earthquake, it has still held its traditional Day of the Dead celebrations during the last two years. One of these traditions in the yearly flower carpet. This carpet has an area of over 1,000 square meters and is made up of 42,000 flowers. The carpet usually forms different skulls. The town also has a skull parade. Here, people dress up as skulls and carry giant skull-shaped dolls around the town.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead, without a doubt, is an absolutely unique tradition. It summarizes the history of Mexico, going all the way from pre-Hispanic times to modern days. Day of the Dead also plays an important role in the country’s way of seeing life and death. It manages to get different regions together to celebrate their dead loved ones.  

Make sure to check other culture-related articles here.

Ancient Tattoos: Different cultures, times, and places

As explored in these series, tattoos have been around for centuries. They have hold different meanings in different cultures throughout time. From marks to define a person’s social status, to beauty enhancements, tattoos have undoubtedly been an integral part of societies all over the world. Thanks to rare preserved mummies, art and ancient artifacts, archeologists have been able to study ancient tattoos in flesh. This article explores ancient tattoos in cultures in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. 

Ancient Tattoos in North America

The US and Canada

The tradition of tattooing in North America spreads all over the continent. Traces of ancient tattoos can be found all the way from southern Quebec in Canada, and Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma in the US, where the Huron People settled, to the south of Mexico, with the Mayan culture. Tattooing dates from way before any European colonizers arrived in the continent. 

Tattoos amongst the Huron People from Canada and the US were seen as strange and surprising by European settlers. According to the diaries of Gabriel Sagard-Theodat, one of the first French Missionaries in what now is Canada, the Hurons would take the bones of birds and fish and use them as razors to mark their bodies by making little punctures on their skin. The person receiving the tattoo would not make any sounds or movements while being tattooed, which showed courage. After being punctured, the Hurons would pour a black pigment into the wounds to engrave them. 

Ancient tattoos
Native American vessels decorated with different patterns

Tattooing was a vital practice for Native Americans in the United States. Tattoos in the country played an important role when sharing religious ideals. In the case of warriors, facial tattoos worked as traps to catch the should of the enemies they killed in battle, which they believed helped them extend their lives. Evidence of ancient tattoos amongst Native Americans comes mostly from ceramic vessels. These pieces were shaped as human heads and used to be decorated with motifs that included birds, feathers, and claws, which related to a deity called the “Birdman”. This figure symbolized life over death and tattoos related to it granted warriors the force of the deity.

Mexico

If we go further to the South, in Mexico, tattoos were important in both the Western states of Jalisco, Colima, and Nayarit, and the vey south of the country, where the Mayans settled. In the case of Western states, evidence of ancient tattoos comes from artifacts recovered from tombs. These artifacts were mainly ceramic figurines with marks depicting tattoos. Some scholars believe these figures could represent different deities, while others believe they could be representations of the people with whom they were buried. The designs of the tattoos most likely communicated social status and the figures were probably for ceremonial practices. 

Ancient mayan tatoos
Mayan mask with what appears to be tattoos

In the case of the Mayan culture, body modification was done in order to please the Gods. The more body modifications an individual had, the higher the social status of the person. Both, men and women had tattoos. Women usually had delicate designs on their upper body, while men got marks on their arms, legs, back, and face. Tattoos were painful and dangerous in the Mayan society. Tattooists used to draw the desired design on the recipients body and would then cut the skin. The scar resulting created the tattoo. It was common for Mayan people to die from infection, and those who survived were seen as brave and honorable. Mayan tattoos included animals and religious myths and symbols honoring the Gods. As in other cultures, tattoos were a symbol of social status in the Mayan culture.

Ancient Tattoos in South America

Just as in North America, ancient cultures that practiced tattooing were scattered in different countries around South America. These countries, among others included Peru and Chile.

Ancient tattoos in Peru
Tattooed mummy found in Peru

In the case of Peru evidence of ancient tattoos has been found on both artifacts and human remains. A specific Peruvian culture, the Moches, used to heavily and elaborately decorate ceramics, gold pieces, and textiles. Some scholars believed the markings on gold ornaments including masks could actually represent tattoos. Tattoos in the Moche culture could have represented identity, death, and rebirth. Tattoos in the region have been found not only on artifacts, but also mummies. An example of this is the “Lady of Cao”, a preserved mummy found in an archeological zone called El Brujo, in the Northern coast of Peru in 2005. The tattoos on her body represented different animals including spiders, crabs, and snakes. It is speculated that these motifs related to sacrifice, death, and fertility. 

Another example of tattooed mummies in South America are the Chiribaya mummies, found in both Peru and Chile in the 1990s. One of these mummies had tattoos depicting animals, and a series of circular shapes on her neck. The later was done with burned plant materials and probably served as some sort of protective or healing function. 

Another tattooed mummy, called the “Chinchorro man” was found in Northern Chile. This mummy has a series of black dots on his upper lip, which looks like a thin mustache. These marks probably indicated social status or allegiance.  

Ancient Tattoos in Africa

Hints of ancient tattoos in Africa point to cultures in Egypt and Sudan. In the case of Egypt, several tattooed mummies have been found. These mummies are thought to be related to Hathor, the Goddess of love, happiness, dance, and musical arts in the Egyptian culture. One of these is the mummy of Amunet, a priestess. The mummy’s body has tattoos that cover the lower abdomen, torso, the space beneath Amunet’s right breast, the inside of her elbow joints, left shoulder, and thighs. The tattoos represent eyes, snakes, lotus blossoms, and cows, which hugely differ from earlier tattoos in the Egyptian culture. When these mummies were discovered, researchers thought tattooed women were either prostitutes or concubines due to the perceived seductive nature and locations of their tattoos. Nevertheless, it is now believed the tattoos actually represented the mummies’ connection to Hathor. It is also likely that tattoos were seen as an element of women’s sexuality. 

Ancient tattoos in Egypt
The Temple of Hathor. A Goddess found tattooed in ancient Egyptian bodies.

In the case of Sudan, archaeologists found a female mummy with a tattoo on her inner thigh in 2014. The tattoo spells the word “Michael” in Greek. This tattoo probably has to do with St. Michael, the Archangel. Similar symbols have been found on stone tablets and church mosaics, but never on human flesh. Some researchers believe the woman was part of a Christian community and got the tattoo either for protection against sexual violation or to help her conceive. Archaeologists still don’t know if the tattoo was meant to be seen by others. 

Ancient Tattoos in Europe

Southern Europe

Like in other regions, ancient tattoos in Southern Europe have been found on both human flesh and old artifacts in countries such as Italy and Greece. In Italy, the body of an ancient man nicknamed Ötzi the Iceman was found by two German alpinists in 1991. Ötzi died while climbing the alps thousands of years ago and due to the fact that his body was covered in snow, it was almost perfectly preserved. The body is covered with over 50 tattoos that form lines and crosses. These tattoos were made by a series of incisions on which charcoal was then rubbed. The marks are present on Ötzi’s ankles, wrists, knees, and back. Researchers believe the tattoos were some form of acupuncture, thus making them therapeutic rather than cosmetic or religious. 

Learn more about Ötzi, the Iceman

In the case of Greece, tattoos were common amongst a tribe named the Thracians (who were located in other European areas as well). Thracians saw tattoos as symbols of pride. Tattooing was highly admired and seen as a mark of “noble birth” and there are ancient Greek vases depicting tattooed Thracians.

Eastern Europe 

Ancient tattoos in Eastern Europe include those done in Poland, Romania, and Russia, among others. In more recent times, the 1800s, Polish authorities used to cut tattoos out of dead convicts. They would then catalog them in an attempt to identify gang affiliations. Inmates in Polish prisons used to get tattoos using different instruments that included broken glass and razor blades. After piercing their skin with these instruments, they mixed substances such as charcoals, pencil lead or cork with water, soap and fat and rubbed them on their wounds. Their tattoos represented their professions, religion, and background. 

Mummies with much more ancient tattoos than the ones mentioned above were found in Siberia in 1993. These mummies belonged to the Pazyryk tribesmen, a nomadic tribe that used tattoos as means of identification, and according to some researchers as some form of mystical protection. One of the mummies, who was probably the leader of the group, had tattoos that depicted strange beasts. One of these was a monster that had a panther’s tail, an eagle’s beak, and the body of a goat. Along with other monsters and regular animals, the man had some circular tattoos on the neck. These could have had a therapeutic purpose.

Ancient tattoos in Eastern Europe
Pazyryk excavation site, where tattooed mummies have been found

Another mummy, nicknamed the “Princess of Ukok” was also found in Russia. The princess’ tattoos were very intricate and highly detailed, and just as with the Pazyryk tribesmen, depicted strange creatures. Researchers believe the woman had a high status because she was buried with several saddled horses and had fine clothing. 

Ancient tattoos in Eastern Europe
Cucuteni figurines with traces of what could have been tattoos

In the case of Romania, over 20 ceramic figurines where found in northeastern Romania in 1981. These figurines were made by the Cucuteni culture, which settled in what now is Romania and Ukraine. The figurines had lines drawn on them, which researchers believe could represent tattoos.

Ancient Tattoos in Asia

In the case of Asia, ancient tattoos have been observed in Chinese, Philippine, and Japanese cultures. Mummies in caves in Kabayan, Philippines, survived a fire and were recovered by archaeologists. Several of these mummies are covered with tattoos depicting both, geometric shapes and omen animals (e.g. lizards, snakes, scorpions, centipedes). When they were alive, these ancient people won the right of getting tattooed after winning a battle.

Ancient Japanese Tattoos
Illlustration of a Japanese Dogu, a tattoed figurine

In Japan, an indigenous group named the Jōmon people, created several humanoid figurines with engraving on their bodies and faces. These marks most likely represent tattoos. The Jōmon people probably using obsidian artifacts as tattooing tools. 

Lastly, tattooed mummies have also been found in Tarim Basin, in southern China. One of these mummies belonged to a woman who was probably sacrificed and buried. She has charcoal tattoos depicting moons on her eyelids, ovals on her face, and some other decorative patterns. Her tattoos were more likely symbolic or cosmetic. Her tattoos were done through a puncture technique similar to the one used by Thracians and the Pazyryk people. Another male mummy found in the region had suns tattooed, which probably represented a male God.

And, lastly, Ancient Tattoos in Oceania

Lastly, in the case of Oceania, tattoos were common in countries that include New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. The Maori tribe of New Zealand used to preserve tattooed human heads in a practice called “mokomokai”. To do this, the Maori  filled severed heads with fiber and gum. They then boiled and put the heads over fire. They lastly dried them in the Sun. These heads (commonly only male) were covered in ancient Maori tattoos. These tattoos were made after carving the skin and filling the wounds with ink. Since they were extremely painful, they were seen as a sign of courage. 

Ancient tattoos Solomon Islands
Tattooed inhabitants of the Solomon Islands

In the Solomon Islands, local tribes used obsidian artifacts as tattooing tools. These artifacts also were found to contain charcoal, blood and fat, which were all used as pigments. In addition to this, tribes in the islands would sometimes also place ink on the skin and then cut it to help it penetrate the skin; use thorns or fish spines to puncture the skin; or use quartz and bamboo to make incisions.

More information regarding tattoos in Oceania and Asia can be found in this article about Polynesian tattoos.

As impressive as it may seem, cultures in different countries, and sometimes even continents, used similar techniques to tattoo. The practice would sometimes have similar meanings as well. Even more interestingly, tattooing has survived ancient times and prevailed until today.

Religious Tattoos: Meanings and Interpretations

Religious Tattoo

Religion can often influence a person when getting a tattoo and religious tattoos are definitely here to stay. People sometimes get them because of deeply rooted emotions, spiritual peace, or mere religious conviction.

Some religions have no specific rules regarding tattoos. However, others forbid their followers from getting any sort of mark on their skin. This can also change depending on tradition or how each religious followers interprets holy texts.

This new article in the series following tattooing, deals with religious tattoos and their implications in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Neo-Pagan and Wiccan faiths.

Christianity

Religious Tattoos
Brazilian man with tattoo of Christ

Tattooing has (and still is) been subject to multiple interpretations amongst Christians. A line in the Bible says “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you. I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:28)”. This verse has been subject to lots of interpretations. Some Christians believe it means tattoos are forbidden for them. However, others believe the line refers to a form of self-mutilation that was common when mourning in ancient times, rather the practice of tattooing itself.

There are other lines in the Bible that some believers think encourage tattoos. These include: “And the Lord said to him, go though the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof (Ezekiel 9:4)”. In addition to: “One shall say, ‘I am the Lord’s, ‘and another shall use the name of Jacob, and another shall mark his arm ‘of the Lord’ and adopt the name of Israel (Isaiah 44:5)”. The true meaning behind these texts is still pretty much open to debate and interpretation.

Religious Tattoos
Tattooed Christian man praying

Even though there are different views regarding tattoos in Christianity, some religious groups, such as the so-called Knights of St. John of Malta actually tattoo themselves to show devotion. Furthermore, the Christian Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an ethnic group in the aforementioned country, started tattooing themselves and their children in an attempt to protect the community from forced conversion to Islam during the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The tradition of tattooing continued and then started being practiced during celebrations such as the Feast of St. Joseph. Tattoos in the religious group usually consist of crosses on hands, forearms, and the chest. Other examples of Christian groups embracing tattooing include Orthodox Coptic Christian in Egypt, who tattoo crosses on their right wrists or war veterans.

While some Christian groups have embraced tattoos for years, others saw a decline in tattooing when Europeans conquered and tried to convert foreign indigenous people into the religion. This happened because the Western religious groups saw and promoted tribal tattoos such as pagan tradition (a topic also explored in this article).

Judaism

Just as with Christians, some Jewish communities embrace tattoos while other discourage them. Furthermore, other religious sub-groups, such as Reform Jews and Reconstructionists have a neutral view regarding tattoos. When it comes to prohibition and discouragement, one of the same lines mentioned before (Leviticus 19:28) is often used by rabbis to highlight the prohibition of any body modification that does not serve a medical purpose (except for circumcision, which is allowed). The reason behind this is still open to debate. It is said said that the body is a gift from God and is therefore sacred and should not be altered and any body marks show disrespect. However, in most sectors of the Jewish community, having a tattoo does not stop a person from participating in their religious ceremonies. Jewish people with tattoos can be buried in Jewish cemeteries and participate in rituals in synagogues.

A more sensitive view of tattoos is also pointed out by Conservative Jewish communities. This view deals with the following verse: “If it [the tattoo] was done in the flesh of another, the one to whom it was done is blameless (Yoreh De’ah 180:2)”. The verse is thought to mean that tattooing someone is different to getting a tattoo. The former is actually acceptable. Orthodox Jews, however, relate the verse to forcing tattooing during the Holocaust. In fact, in modern times, tattooing in the Jewish community is seen as repugnant by some. This is due to the events of the Holocaust.

Islam

There is no direct mention of religious tattoos or tattooing in the Qu’ran. Those who believe tattoos are forbidden in Islam, usually base their views on Hadiths (a series of recordings focusing on the actions of prophet Muhammad). One of these recordings stated “the Prophet cursed the one who does tattoos and the one who has a tattoo done”. Scholars believe there may be specific religious reasons why tattoos were forbidden. These reasons include that tattooing is a way of body mutilation, which alters Allah’s creations. Also that, since tattoos cover the natural body, they are a type of deception. Another reason might be that tattooing is a common practice amongst non-believers. Therefore, getting tattoos is seen as a way of imitating them.

Interestingly enough, religious scholars who believe tattoos are forbidden usually do not mention henna tattoos are sinful (unless they include offensive imagery). They do not believe those who had tattoos before converting to Islam need to have them removed after their conversion, either.

Religious Tattoo
Muslim-converted man with tattoo

Some other scholars believe tattooing was actually practiced by some Islamic groups. There are even indications that Asma bint Umais, Prophet Muhammad’s companion, had tattoos on her hands. Furthermore, diverse Muslim groups in countries including Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran used to practice tattooing. The purposes for doing so included beautification or the prevention of diseases. There are also records dating of the early 20th century, that state women in Persia used to have tattoos that included birds, gazelles or verses of the Koran. Men in the same region reportedly got lions tattooed on the arm if they won wresting matches. In the 1960s it was also recorded that Muslims in Lebanon would get swords tattoos to distinguish each other. On top of this, other scholars have stated tattoos were common amongst Muslim women until last century.

Religious Tattoo
Woman with traditional henna Berber tattoo

An example of this is the Berber culture. In this tribe, women used to permanently tattoo their faces until Islam arrived in Northern Africa, where the group is located. Ever since, the tribe started using henna tattoos during ceremonies. Henna tattoos replace the symbolism of the tattoo without leaving a permanent mark on the person. These tattoos are usually done on the hands and feet. Facial tattooing, once traditional, is now disappearing. In the past, Berber tattoos used to be placed around openings of the body. These included eyes, nose, and mouth. Tattoos next to body openings were thought to protect the tattooed women from bad spirits.

Tattoos have become popular amongst the Muslim youth. Youngsters in Iran and Turkey often tattoo themselves for fashion or for being part of a sub-culture. Furthermore, it is now more common than ever for the Muslim youth in Western countries to get involved in tattooing. An example of this is Shanzey Afzal, a totally badass, Muslim tattoo artist who started her tattooing career as an apprentice in New York:

A different religious view: Neo-paganism and Wiccan Tattoos

Neo-pagans and Wiccans use tattooing as an expression of their beliefs (there are even Wiccan traditions that entitle tattooing). The former is a group that celebrates ancient polytheistic European movements. The later is a group of people that usually worship nature. They both practice witchcraft or magic to an extent.

Religious Tattoos
Group of Wiccan people

The groups have a broad range of symbols that are often used as tattoos. These symbols include the pentagram, a five-pointed star that represents earth, water, air, fire, and spirit; the Triquetra, a symbol often seen in Celtic records, and that puts together three elements which meaning varies depending on the region or tribe; gods, since pagan faith celebrates a large amount of different deities; and celestial symbols such as the moon, which is also commonly related to witchcraft or ancient practices.

Religious Tattoos
Celestial tattoo depicting the moon

It is a common occurrence that the acceptance of tattoos in different religious hugely depends on the interpretation of Holy texts. This interpretation is often done in either a personal o mesa-societal level, which leads to contrasting, and sometimes even biased views on the art of tattooing.

Furthermore, while it was (and in some cases still is) common practice for different religions to reject any form of body transformation, tattoos seem to have been a part of different societies for years. This more likely will not change anytime soon. Youth in different countries and societal groups seems to have adapted some of these ancient practices. They have fought against discrimination and found a way of preserving their faith through ink.

Indian Tattoos: Mysterious Origins and Polarized Visions

Indian Tattoos

Indian culture is, without a doubt, one of the richest and most unique cultures in the world. It is also full of folklore and mystery, something reflected on its tattoos. This article of the series explores the still mysterious origins of Indian tattoos, their different meanings, and current polarized state.

Ancient Times and Indian Tattoos’ Mysterious Origins

Tattooing has been a tradition in India for hundreds of years. In fact, Indian tattoos are so ancient that it’s still impossible to tell exactly when the practice first started. Tattoos are widely popular in practically the whole country. They go from deep in the Eastern jungles of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, to the western deserts that surround the India-Pakistan border. Throughout history, tattoos in India have had different purposes, ranging from beautification of the body to acting as a protection against bad spirits.

There’s a number of myths and explanations surrounding the origins of tattooing, or godna, as the practice is called in Hindi. For instance, a group of people in Central India, called the Gondi, have a legend focusing on Lord Shiva, a Hindi deity. According to the story, Shiva once hosted a feast to which he invited all the other Gods. The Goddesses were also there. However, they were sitting in a different group. A Gond God was present in the event as well. When he went to get his wife, he accidentally mistook her for Parvati, Lord Shiva’s wife and the Goddess of love and fertility. The Gond God put his arm around Parvati, which enraged her. This caused her to command the tribal women to wear specific tattoos to differentiate themselves from others. Tattoos supposedly became a tradition after this.

Indian Tattoos
Member of the Apatani Tribe

Other explanations for the origins of Indian tattoos are much rougher. An example of this is the Danuks, a tribe established in Bihar, in the North-centre of India. The Danuks believe tattoos reduce the attractiveness of women, thus making sexual predators less interested in them. The same is true for the Apatani, another tribe that inhabits the north of the country. This tribe tattooed young girls to make them look less attractive in the eyes of neighboring tribes that would otherwise be more likely to abduct them.

Different areas, different tattoos, and different meanings

Tattoos have different meanings and purposes in different areas of India. For instance, the North-eastern Noctes and Wanchos tribes associated tattoos to strength and courage due to the pain getting a tattoo involves. The Munda tribe in the North-east used them to record important events such as winning battles. On the other hand, the Korathi, a nomadic tribe got tattoos that represented the kollam, a labyrinthine in which they believed evil beings would be trapped. This was done in order to keep them safe and to make sure they had a mark that would allow their relatives to recognize them in the afterlife. Something similar is true for the Kutia Kondh tribe of the East. The members of this tribe tattoo symmetrical lines on their faces to make sure that they’re able to recognize each other in the spirit world as well.

Indian Tattoos
Indian warrior with a face tattoo. In certain tribes, tattoos were seen as symbols of courage and strength.

Another North-Eastern tribe called the Singpho has very specific rules regarding tattoos and women. If a woman is not married, she’s not allowed to get any tattoos. Then, once she gets married tattoos are done on both of her legs, starting in her knees and going all the way to her ankles. This example actually leads us to the next topic…

Current Rejection to Certain Tattoos

In the past, if a woman did not have a tattoo, she used to be seen as impure and untouchable. Girls used to get tattoos as they grew up. As previously mentioned, they would get a tattoo after getting married, but this was not the only benchmark that led to one. Tattoos would also be done to indicate a girl was part of a certain tribe, after she turned 10 years old, or after giving birth. It is estimated that millions of women were tattooed forcefully throughout their lives. However, modern media, the internet, and people in rural areas more commonly being in touch with urban areas, have led young girls to start refusing being marked in any way.

Indian Tattoos
Tattooing young women’s faces used to be a popular tradition in India. It is still common in certain tribes.

Tattoos on women used to be done using very rudimentary methods. These included needles heated with fire, and a black pigment. These procedures were extremely painful and would more often than not lead to bleeding. Furthermore, they did not include any sort of anesthesia and the process of healing would take up to a month. Young Indian women believe there’s no place for such a procedure anymore.

Rejection to this kind of tattoos is not new. The Indian Government actually banned tattooing young girls’ faces back in the 1970s. This led to a decrease in girls with this kind of tattoos in urban areas. However, there’s still criticism amongst the older members of society. These members insist tattoos are all what’s left of them after their deaths. They are not willing to lose an ancient tradition.

Modern Indian Tattoos

Certain aspects of ancient Indian tattoos have started to be rejected. However, modern tattooing is starting to be seen as a form of art and self expression. This a phenomenon that is also happening in other cultures around the world. It is now common for young, well-informed, Indian people to get tattoos. Popular modern tattoo designs include realistic portraits, nature-related imagery, dot work, watercolor, and religious tattoos. This last type of tattoos includes Gods, mandalas, chakras, and their corresponding mantras. Religious tattoos are associated with luck and prosperity for those who wear them.

Indian Tattoos
Just as in other societies, tattooing is now prevalent amongst the Indian youth.

Tattooing in India has developed so much in the last ten years that being a tattoo artist currently is an extremely viable profession with a good reputation. Tattoo parlors in India are equipped with high tech equipment. Furthermore, Indian tattoo artists are starting to make a name for themselves in the international scene. These artists are now combining international influences, cultural heritage, and the wisdom passed from older generations to create unique pieces of work.

The World-Famous Mehndi Tattoos

Indian Tattoos
Example of a Mehndi tattoo.

Just as modern Indian tattoos are making their way through the international scene, there’s a type of Indian tattoos that became famous worldwide during the 1990s. This was in part due to its representation on Western media.

Mehndi are temporary tattoos Indian, and other groups of people such as Pakistanis, make with henna. People who do them usually mash Henna leaves until they form a paste. They then add oil to the mixture.

Indian Tattoos
Henna leave paste used for Mehndi tattoos

They are usually done as a hobby or as part of special occasions such as weddings and religious festivals. The most common spots for them are the hands, feet and, legs. Their primary focus are women, who wear them as a rite of passage in the aforementioned celebrations. It is believed that applying henna on bride before a wedding is a sign of prosperity and good luck.

Some designs for Mehndi tattoos include mandalas, mantras, and Indian motifs that include the bela, creeper vine, peacocks, and flowers such as lotus.

Also, as a random fact… It is possible to find tenths (if not hundreds) of very hypnotizing YouTube video-tutorials showing the steps to follow to create a Mehndi tattoo. You can watch one here:

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZUyB4jmt2c[/embedyt]

The history and current state of Indian tattoos is extremely polarizing. The true origins of the practice are still pretty much unknown. Furthermore, there are two extremes in the current Indian tattooing scene. On one hand, certain groups see ancient practices and types of tattoos as degrading and even dangerous for women. Thus, those affected by them are trying to stop them. On the other, certain groups of people are becoming fond of tattoos, giving modern Indian tattoo artists a prestigious position.

Indian tattoos, are, without a doubt, a unique mix of present, past, and future.

Polynesian Tattoos: An Ancient Tradition

An Ancient Tradition – Before a written language there were tattoos

Tattoos have been an important part of Polynesian cultures for the last 2,000 years. In ancient times, the Oceania region lacked written forms of communication, making tattoos a way of expressing a person’s personality, identity, rank in society, and passions. Polynesian tattoos were common amongst a large number of the members of society. Inhabitants of the region saw them as a way of obtaining strength, power, and protection.

Polynesian tattoos were a way of expressing self-identity and passions

Tattoos firstly developed into a highly sophisticated form of art in the islands of Tonga and Samoa. In the former, Tongan warriors used to get tattoos from the waist to the knees with patterns that included bands, triangles and areas of skin fully covered in black. In Samoa, tattoos played an important role in religion and the lives of warriors. The tattoos are done in warriors used to begin on the waist and continued until below the knee.

The Role of Polynesian Tattoo Artists

The role of tattoo artists was passed from generation to generation through an apprenticeship system. In addition, Polynesian tattoo artists were highly privileged and venerated members of society. The early Polynesians often regarded as spiritual leaders. Their responsibilities included not only mastering the tattooing process but travelling to neighbouring islands to perform rites. The tattooing process was so spiritual that tattoo artists would often restrict the person getting the tattoo. These restrictions included eating certain foods or ordering them to abstain from intercourse or contact with women for a fixed period of time.

A Painful, Loud, and Risky Process – Still worth it though…

Man with Polynesian Tattoos

Ancient Polynesians would endure intense pain whilst getting a tattoo and the risk of infection was ever-present. Nevertheless, if they backed down they would risk being insulted or labelled as cowards. If men could not stand the pain and stopped the process, they would have to carry the shame of an incomplete tattoo for the rest of their lives.

The first step to follow when tattooing an individual was to map out the design using materials such as charcoal. The tattoo artist would use a tattooing comb or needle for the rest of the process. This tool was typically made of shark teeth or bone attached to a piece of wood. The artist would then tap into the person’s skin and deposit ink. This would create the desired design. Once the tattoo was done, the recipient would usually wash it using salt water to avoid further infection. Those being tattooed would often scream or cry so that others in the village could hear how brave they were and see the extreme amounts of pain they could endure.

Tattooing sessions used to last until the person could no longer stand the pain. The whole process of finishing a tattoo could actually last up to four months. The healing process that came afterwards could last up to a year. Since tattoos often covered large portions of the recipients’ skin, it was common for the families and friends of the tattoo recipients to take care of them while they healed.

Polynesian Tattoos and Social Classes

The higher the social class of the person being tattooed, the bigger the ceremony was. When it came to middle-class people, their tattoos were usually done in the house of the tattoo artist. Lower classes were tattooed by novices. Members of the lowest classes, such as fishermen, were rarely ever tattooed. This system led tattoos to become a mean of social class distinction in some Polynesian cultures.

Different Meanings and Locations

The body part where a tattoo was located could mean different things in ancient Polynesia. For instance, tattoos on the head meant spirituality, wisdom, and knowledge. Tattoos on the lower trunk were related to independence, energy and sexuality. Upper arm tattoos meant strength and bravery (this kind of tattoos was often done on warriors). Lastly, higher trunk tattoos meant generosity and honour, and arms and hand tattoos meant creativity and creation.

Polynesian tattoos in different areas of the body had different meanings

Some Polynesian tattoo designs included “Enata” (human figures that often represented people and gods), shark teeth, the ocean, tiki figures symbolizing semi-gods, guardians or ancestors, and animals like turtles, lizards, or stingrays. These designs were always symmetrical and aligned with other tattoos in the body. The figures and patterns were also passed down from generation to generation, meaning tattoo artists never really created new designs.

Another interesting fact is that Polynesian tattoos on the left on the body were mainly associated with women, whilst tattoos on the right side of the body were associated with men. Women were not as often tattooed as men. Tattoos for women were usually located in their arms, feet, ears, lips, and hands mostly for beauty and aesthetic purposes. Tattoos on women were made up of delicate designs and often resembled gloves or stockings.

Unfortunately, the meaning and purposes of the designs of a large number of Polynesian tattoos were lost after the arrival of the Europeans.

Dark Times

After the arrival of European colonists, missionaries also arrived in the islands expecting to convert the natives into their European way of life. The missionaries opposed the art of tattooing and tried to convince the islanders of focusing on God instead. Afterwards, the colonists forced the natives to cover up their tattoos and work while they sacked the islands. Tattoos were then outlawed.

The Europeans also started taking tattooed islanders back to their continent to display them as “curiosities”. One of these islanders was known as Prince Giolo, or the “Painted Prince” a fully tattooed islander that was taken to England from the Philippines by adventurer William Dampier. Dampier thought he could make money off Prince Giolo by displaying him in London, which proved to be successful. Dampier had portraits of Prince Giolo done to show his tattoos and created a tale of how his tattoos helped him drive away snakes and other poisonous animals, making him absolutely formidable. Prince Giolo died a while after his arrival in England, and a piece of his persevered skin was the first documented collection of tattooed skin in England, making it an anatomical curiosity in the country.

Prince Giolo Polynesian Tattoo

Prince Giolo was not the only Islander to die due to the mistreatment of the European colonizers. Around 85,000 islanders died due to illnesses that included syphilises, smallpox, and measles. The secrets and meaning of their tattoos vanished with them and the records created by the European colonists are either inaccurate or incomplete.

Revival and Polynesian Tattoos Today

The art of Polynesian tattoos was deeply affected after the arrival of European colonists. Nevertheless, it is now common for younger generations in places such as Tahiti, to proudly display Polynesian tattoos. This new phenomenon started in the 1970s, 1980’s, and 1990s with the youth trying to achieve an identity revival and a greater acceptance of tattoos in the area.

Polynesian tattoos have adapted to modern times

The Polynesian diaspora has also taken the art of tattooing to places as far as Los Angeles, where groups of Filipino descendants are looking to preserve their heritage and traditions by getting Polynesian tattoos often based on their family histories and life events to create unique designs.

While some young people now incorporate color and modern designs into tattoos that consisted of traditional black patterns, there are also some islanders trying to preserve the art of ancient Polynesian tattoos.

Polynesian Tattoo artist

An example is Whang-Od, a Filipino tattoo artist that started tattooing over 80 years ago and lives in a tiny town in the middle of the mountains named Buscalan. She first learned the practice of traditional tattooing from her father and has now passed the knowledge to her niece, whom she has trained since she was nine years old and who she hopes will keep the tradition alive. People from all over the world travel to Buscalan just to get a tattoo from the one and only Whang-Od. You can learn more from her here:

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57ozdNDqDKM[/embedyt]

The original techniques for Polynesian tattoos have changed in the last decades and have now been modernized. Nevertheless, this kind of tattoo is recognized and admired worldwide due to its beauty, uniqueness and cultural significance.