Animals have long been associated with certain meanings and in many societies, they are even totems that represent groups of tribes of people. Wild African animals like the Hyena are popular symbols of strength and bravery. This animal, however, is also associated with the negative notions of joking, deception, and trickery.
If you want a powerful tattoo that is easily recognizable, this tattoo might be right for you.
This article outlines the history of the hyena tattoo and lists all of its possible meanings. You will also read about the animal and the ways in which people tend to get their tattoos inked.
What is the Hyena?
It is a cat-like carnivore that is a member of the genus Hyaena. They are widespread throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and they play a key role in most native ecosystems. They are more populous in southern Africa.
Hyenas are not easy to describe: while they are cat-like (feliform), they share many characteristics with canines. This includes a canine-like body shape, adaptations to run for long distances, and a hunting style where they catch their prey with their teeth rather than their claws.
Some species of hyenas have been known to prey on humans – usually the sick, infirm, young, or very old – but this is rare.
The hyena is also widely recognized as an ugly animal with few redeeming qualities. With a sloped or curved back, mangy-looking fur, and facial features that make the animal look like it is snarling, smiling, or smirking, it has little to recommend in the looks department.
The History of the Hyena Tattoo
The animal plays a role in the mythologies of many cultures and, for the most part, it is always considered in a negative light. The tattoos certainly reflect these meanings, as well as many others.
In east African Tabwa mythology, the spotted hyena represents the sun that brought the sun to warm the cold earth.
In wider west African folklore, the animal is thought to represent negative traits like immorality and bad hygiene, as well as the chaos that comes when the natural order of things is reversed.
In the central African country of Tanzania, it is widely believed that witches ride hyenas, and in its central Mtwara Region, there is the superstition that if a child is born during the night when a hyena is crying, they will grow up to be a thief.
In the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Levant, the concept of the ‘were-hyena’ is part of local folklore. In these stories, humans can transform into hyenas and cause mischief. Hyenas can also be depicted as turning into humans and walking among them in plain sight.
What Does the Tattoo Symbolize?
The hyena is associated with mostly negative meanings like cowardice, bad behavior, death, impurity, idiocy, corruption, and betrayal.
It is also associated with the following meanings:
Although it is a cat-like carnivore, the hyena has many canine-like characteristics which defy a simple definition. The notion of dualism is a great way to represent the idea that the animal has representations of both.
With the legend of the ‘were-hyena’ and the medieval idea that they mimicked human voices to lure people out of their homes and attack them, hyenas are the quintessential trickster.
Hyenas have long been considered worthy of contempt and shunning. They are nocturnal and they prowl under the cover of darkness. With bad motivations, they have long been associated with stealing livestock and children, robbing graves, eating human flesh, and even working with the devil of the Christian Bible. Truly frightening characteristics.
Some cultures view witches and witchcraft as negative elements, and the hyena, which is a witch’s steed, is also known to steal people’s souls.
Despite this overwhelming negativity, these animals are also sometimes associated with positive meanings like fertility, virility, strength, stamina, and warmth.
Why Do People Choose to Get This Tattoo?
Although the hyena has negative connotations, it is still a popular tattoo design for many reasons, including:
- It can be inked as realistic or stylized and cartoonish.
- It is hyper-masculine.
- It is an authentic representation of the mythology of many cultures.
- It works well on many parts of the body.
- It has both negative and positive connotations.
For these reasons, the tattoo can also represent the concept of misunderstanding and for most people who choose this tattoo, they appreciate the duality of the negative and positive and connect with the idea of widespread misunderstanding.
What types of Hyena tattoos are there?
There are two types of hyena tattoos: naturalistic, and stylized or cartoonish.
If you are interested in the Hyena’s status as a trickster or an animal that instills fear and dread, you might prefer a stylized or cartoonish depiction.
However, if your interest in the tattoo leans towards some of its letter-known qualities like ‘were-hyena’ or connections to witchcraft, you might prefer a realistic depiction.
The most popular way to depict the hyena is laughing, smiling, or grinning. It can also be shown howling at the moon or pacing as it circles its prey.
What are the Best Locations for the Tattoo?
There is no ‘best’ location for a Hyena tattoo; however, it is often inked on the hand, arm, and shoulder blade. These places are great if you want to show the tattoo off.
If you’re not comfortable having your tattoo on display for everyone to see, it is perfect for the top of your back or on your torso, close to the bottom of the ribcage.
The most important thing to consider when deciding to place your tattoo is whether it makes you happy and feels right for you.
So, is this Tattoo Right for You?
This tattoo will not be for everyone. With its negative connotations vastly outweighing its positive ones, it will only be appropriate for someone who is comfortable with this concept and is happy to embrace its dualistic symbolism.
If you have an unconventional streak and enjoy living your life left-of-center, this might be the tattoo for you!