Tattoos in Indonesia

For want of anything better to do, I ended up in one of Jakarta’s largest shopping malls, Taman Anggrek, at the weekend. And was it busy! Shoppers everywhere.

A perfect opportunity then for people watching; and a good chance to see what fashions are in, and what are not.

But what struck me was not what people were wearing but what they were doing to their hair: there was no shortage of redheads, blondes and brunettes. And this in a country where everyone is born with black hair!

Quite bizarre really: when I first came to Indonesia nobody would dare dye their hair, but now everyone seems to be doing it.

And I even saw a few tattoos which surprised me. Hell, times must be changing. Because it wasn’t long ago that tattoos were completely taboo in Indonesia. In fact, back in the days of Suharto, there was even an infamous operation by the government in the 1980s called Petrus-Penembak Misterius, in which tattooed hoodlums were rounded up by the authorities and dispatched.

As a result, the tattoo culture was virtually wiped out. Some people even resorted to ironing or bleaching their tattoos, leaving horrendous scars.

But it didn’t take too long for the tattoo culture to reemerge.

And according to this fascinating underground Indonesian website, the revival owed much to the popularity in Indonesia during the mid 1990s of US rock bands the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns and Roses, both of which flaunted the sexual appeal of tattoos.

But although tattoos are still not exactly in the mainstream (mainly because of the criminal connotations), more and more Indonesians – especially in the cities - are getting them done.

And for an excellent personal account of getting a tattoo done in Jakarta, click here.

Nowadays even a few famous Indonesian celebrities are daring enough to get a tattoo done. Like the incredibly sensual model Karenina Mara Anderson, who has three.

And whatever you think about tattoos you might want to consider getting one done anyway.

Because it could well be in your best interests:

… tattoos and death are inextricably bound in Dayak beliefs. When the soul (beruwa) leaves its human host, it journeys through the murky depths of the afterlife in search of heaven - the land of ancestors. Dayak souls encounter many obstacles on their supernatural flight: The River of Death the most formidable.
According to tradition, only the souls of tattooed women who provided generously for their families and headhunters who possessed hand tattoos - a token of their success - were able to cross the log bridge that spanned these dangerous waters.
Maligang, the malevolent guardian of the bridge, oftentimes refused such passage forcing souls to descend into the river's depths to be eaten by Patan, a giant fish.
However, if the soul was properly tattooed, it was free to pass into the darkness that awaited it on the other side. Although this dim world was silent and discomforting, the soul's tattoos began to burn brightly, in turn, guiding the incorporeal spirit to its final resting place among the ancestors…

For more on tribal tattoos, click here.


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