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Tribes and warriors would decorate their bodies with tattoos and various markings for many reasons. Protection, to express which tribe they belonged to, magical beliefs, a rite of passage, to impress their gods, to ward off bad spirits, depict battle exploits, and simply because the designs were considered beautiful.
Early techniques for decorating the body usually involved a stick with a sharp object attached, a design was tapped into the skin with this device, using a burnt wood ash for the ink.
In Africa the patterns are cut into the flesh and rubbed with ash, until the skin is raised permanently into the selected design.
A man from the Bronze Age who died more than 5000 years ago, is one of the oldest example we have today of ancient body art.
Henna is used frequently for wedding ceremonies in India. They believe the color and pattern of the dye will depict the outcome as in a successful or disastrous wedding.
There is an incredible amount of information in this article:
Also here is an article about Henna:
Hope that helps!