The Choctaw were a tribe of Native Americans living in the area now known as Mississippi. They were often recognized by the large number of tattoos that covered their entire body. The tribe continued to live in the same area until 1830 when they were forced to sell land to the US government and move west.
In the Choctaw tribe there was a special sect of people known as the bone pickers. Bone pickers were honored among the tribe and given special tattoos to inform others of their calling. These tattoos were darker and more intricate than the tattoos given to others in the tribe. Males of the tribe that didn’t fall into this special group were still allowed to tattoo their bodies. They often covered their entire body with tattoos, from their face to their legs.
The Choctaw were known for their intricate tattoos that covered their entire body, and this applied to both male and females in the tribe. Those who weren’t tattooed often painted their bodies to mimic the look of a tattoo, especially during battle. It wasn’t surprising to see a warrior have brightly colored tattoos on his arms, legs and face. Some of the men in the tribe would also use tribal tattoos on specific areas of their body that were only seen at specific times, such as a leg or arm.
Historians point out that while some members of the Choctaw tribe covered every inch of their body with tattoos, others preferred to use body paint during battle. They also claim that the tattoos were highly similar to those use by other tribes in the neighboring area. At times they’ve identified tattoos believed to belong to the Choctaw tribe that actually came from another tribe. There are also current artists that advertise Choctaw tattoos when those tattoos belong to a different tribe.
The tattoos used on the bone pickers were significantly different from those found on other members of the tribe. These tattoos often had the look or feel of an Aztec symbol, using geometric shapes and symbols in the design. These tattoos were often darker and had less colors than other tattoos. For example, the tattoo may have used only one or two shades of black, while another tattoo would be much brighter and contain a number of colors in the design.
Choctaw tattoos can be identified by their location on the body. The most popular choice for tribal tattoos was on the legs or arms of warriors, while others in the tribe wore a variety of tattoos all over their body. Those who were warriors or normal members of the tribe often had tattoos that mimicked something found in nature, such as a bear or a bird soaring through the air. At times the name of the Indian was incorporated into the tattoo, usually as part of the design.
Jennifer Eblin has been a full-time freelance writer since 2006. Her work has appeared on several websites, including Tool Box Tales and Zonder. Eblin received a master's degree in historic preservation from the Savannah College of Art and Design.