It was in 1681 that an injured pirate/doctor was marooned in Panama while he revered from an injury there, discovered the local’s predilection for tattoos. He wrote of their pleasure in pricking their skin all over “with a thorn until the blood gushes out” and of the attractive designs in varying colours which this basic form of tattooing produced.
He did not indulge in any ink himself but did write of other Europeans who had chosen to get inked by the locals and in particular of one man who changed his mind about the facial tattoo he’d had and then of his own difficulty in removing it for the man. “I could not effectively remove it even after much scarifying and fetching off a great part of the skin.”
Tattoo Regret Is Nothing New
So it would seem that even 300 odd years ago, people were taken aback by their own regret after having a tattoo and also that their removal was something which would continue to plague medial professionals for a long time to come.
But what is it which makes people think again? What forms their regret? Tattoos are known today for their permanence and unlike the man in Panama we have sound knowledge of how difficult they can be to remove…so why do people still get them?
Why Do People Get Tattoos?
The answer is identity; tattoos form a strong part of the identity of the wearer. They can say who that person is, where they have been, what they believe in, who they love and what they want. So as the wearer continues to develop and change as a person, so do their loves, desires and fears…making their tattoos no-longer relevant.
In the past however, tattoo removal was often linked to much more serious issues and as explorers began to delve into places which had never been seen by European eyes before, they also began to encounter the power of tattoos and identity.
Two French brothers, part of an exploration into the Americas were taken prisoner as children by a Native American tribe. They were tattooed heavily during their imprisonment and when eventually they were found by Frenchmen, they were taken back to their native France and their tattoos were the subject of much attention both for their educational value as well as for the fact that they were immovable. Attempts were made to remove the inkings with various herbal preparations as well as by abrasion but to no avail and the men had to spend the rest of their lives wearing the story of their abduction for all to see.
Tattoo removal by force is also a religious and political issue of the past and a certain William Lithgow, a Scotsman on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 17th century procured himself a tattoo featuring the name of Jesus as well as the Holy Cross and he added to this design an image of the crown of Scotland and that of England. Unfortunately for Lithgow, he was captured by Spanish soldiers who suspecting him of being a spy were further outraged by the sight of his tattoos. They were cut from his arm, permanently marking him and causing him great pain.
Tattoos have long held great power and the ability to clearly mark cultural beliefs which can both offend as well as empower and this has not changed today. The efforts which people go towards removing them however has fortunately moved on from forcible cutting and scrubbing and we now have far more reliable methods such as Laser tattoo removal to rely upon!