HomeNewsBriefHidden Meanings of Honduras Mara Gang Tattoos Explained
BRIEF

Hidden Meanings of Honduras Mara Gang Tattoos Explained

BARRIO 18 / 3 SEP 2014 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Police in Honduras say they have decoded the symbolic meanings of common tattoos used by the country's "mara" street gangs, although gang members have increasingly hidden these displays of affiliation from view as a reaction to hardline security measures.

Gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 have become renowned for their extravagant tattoos throughout the "Northern Triangle" countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as in the United States.

Honduran newspaper El Heraldo consulted an expert on gang communication to get a breakdown of the meanings of the most common tattoos, which police have reportedly deciphered as a result of investigations.

gangtats3

Prayer

Hands clasped together in prayer (see right) are use to express the phrase "forgive me mother for my crazy life," according to the expert consulted by El Heraldo. This implies contemplation and regret for the things they have done, but recognition that they cannot leave behind the gang life or their mother may be killed in retaliation.

Yin Yang

According to El Heraldo, the traditional Chinese symbol for the complementary balancing of opposing or contrary forces has been co-opted by gangs, who use it as an expression of how they have gone beyond traditional understandings of the balance between good and evil through violence and death.

Spider Webs

gangtats

Spider web tattoos (see left) are commonly found on shoulders, knees and visible parts of the body, and represent power and expansion.

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire tattoos are often done on curved parts of the body and represent submission and slavery to the gang life and an awareness of how they are indoctrinated in gang values.

Three points

Three points positioned in a triangle mean "my crazy life," a phrase used by gang members to describe outlaw gang life.

Virgin of Guadalupe

Especially popular with Barrio 18 gang members -- whose founders are of Mexican origin -- Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos are an appeal to a higher power for protection.

gangtats2

Jesus Christ

Tattoos of Christ (see right) are especially popular with the MS13, who work the letters M and S into the image.

InSight Crime Analysis

Since their formation, gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 have used tattoos as a means of building social identity, displaying allegiance and sending messages.

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 Profile

However, the prominent display of such tattoos is no longer common practice, with gangsters now tattooing in parts of the body concealed by clothing or not at all. In Honduras, this is a result of a 2005 hardline anti-gang law that criminalized being a gang member, leading gang leaders to order an end to the once compulsory tattooing and warning members to avoid outward displays of affiliation, such as tattoos and gang-associated clothing.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 22 JAN 2013

Bucking the downward trend seen in other Northern Triangle nations, Honduras registered an increase in homicides for 2012, an ominous…

ELITES AND CRIME / 1 JUN 2018

The Supreme Court in Honduras has issued a complicated ruling on the constitutionality of an independent anti-graft body that keeps…

CACHIROS / 24 OCT 2019

The US drug trial against the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández brought the nexus between organized crime and…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…