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

EL SALVADOR / 3 AUG 2018

A bipartisan group of members of the US Congress have asked President Donald Trump to investigate and sanction six individuals…

BARRIO 18 / 27 DEC 2016

The same day they buried the seventh police officer killed by gang members in November, the government announced a new…

ELITES AND CRIME / 17 SEP 2018

The murder trial of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras could open a small window into the nexus between criminal…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…