Two interesting articles were brought to my attention today. Both mention the South American gang known as Mara Salvatrucha whose members tend to be extensively tattooed (their rivals, Mara 18, are also heavily tattooed); the picture used shows a gang member with a skull-like facial tattoo which, quite possibly, predates tattoos of the in/famous Skullboy from Quebec, Canada.

Quite obviously, Mara tattoos make the news only in the context of their owners’ violence and crimes but they are quite interesting on their own (this German article shows a gallery of Mara tattoos).

These tattoos are probably both simple and complex at the same time as they are not only a visible (and difficult to hide) symbol of group identity and a warning sign for people outside the gang but, on another level, they also became both a mental and physical trap for Mara themselves making them easy targets for their enemies. Due to tattoos it’s also very difficult to the Mara members to leave the gang and start a new life.

Even though etymology of the word “mara” is unrelated to English or Polish, I find it interesting how negative associations of the word are not only reflected in Spanish but also in English (“nightmare”) and Polish (where the word “mara” is an old way to describe nightmares)