Modern Primitives

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The Modern Primitive subculture exists primarily in North America and Europe. Members are known for their use of body modifications, such as blackwork tattoos (i.e., heavy black ink applied and reapplied until the color of the skin is completely obscured), three-dimensional implants, scarification, and brands. Utilizing both modern and ancient technology, members often participate in culturally authenticated rituals to achieve the desired body modifications. The subculture's basic ideology is to return to a simpler way of life, which they believe they can achieve through their body modifications.

Modern Primitive History

Modern Primitive subculture members were first evident in the latter half of the 1960s. A self-proclaimed Modern Primitive and body artist, Fakir Musafar, originally named this subculture "Modern Primitive" because "modern" represents this subculture's connection to and place in the contemporary (urban) world, and "primitive" represents the primary or initial (non-Western) cultural groups.

Fakir Musafar is one of the most recognized and publicized members of the Modern Primitive subculture. Naming himself after a nineteenth-century Sufi who wandered through India for nearly two decades with heavy metal objects hanging from his torso's flesh as a spiritual sacrifice, Musafar has numerous body modifications, such as septum, ear, and chest piercings, and blackwork tattoos. Articles in National Geographic and other such ethnographies about non-Western cultures, as well as personal visions, inspired many of his body modifications.

Body Modification Technology

Modern Primitive subculture members have distinct appearances because of their extreme body modifications, achieved by a variety of both modern and ancient methods. Not only do members research the design, but some also research the techniques and tools to be used for their body modification. Steve Haworth invented instruments and techniques to insert transdermally or subdermally three-dimensional Teflon and surgical steel implants (for example capture jewelry).

Body Modification Rituals

Some Modern Primitives acquire body modifications by participating in rituals, often inspired by non-Western cultures. For example, Musafar has acquired some of his most notable body modifications from participating in rituals, such as the Kavandi-bearing ceremony, where spears of Siva are placed through the skin to achieve spiritual transcendence; the Hindu Ball Dance, a ritual in which a Sadhu (i.e., an Indian holy man) is pierced by weight-bearing hooks as proof of religious fervor; and the Sun Dance, a Native American ceremony in which a participant is bodily hung from chest piercings as a token of personal sacrifice and endurance. Often the chosen rituals are modified to utilize a chosen technology, to incorporate the participant's spirituality and ideology, and to create the desired body modification. The result is a unique Modern Primitive body modification ritual.


Modern Primitives acquire body modifications as rites of passage, spiritual transcendence, and autonomy. Members of this subculture wear their body modifications as evidence of their experiences, often in an attempt to mimic non-Western cultures. Some subculture members claim that participation in these rituals allows spiritual transcendence via enduring the associated pain. Modern Primitives believe that pain is the key to connecting the real truth and the self in the modern world. Body modifications are the link between the contemporary world and the desired "tribal," "pagan," or "primitive."

See alsoBranding; Goths; Punk; Scarification; Street Style; Tattoos .


Mercury, M. Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification. Rochester, Vt: Park Street Press, 2000.

Musafar, Fakir. "Body Play: State of Grace of Sickness?" In Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry. Edited by A. R. Favazza, M.D. Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Vale, V. and Juno, A. Re/Search: Modern Primitives. Hong Kong: Re/Search Publishers, 1989.

Winge, T. M. "Constructing 'Neo-Tribal' Identities through Dress: Modern Primitives Body Modifications." In The Post-Subcultures Reader. Edited by D. Muggleton and R. Wienzeirl. Oxford: Berg, 2003.

Theresa M. Winge

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Modern Primitives

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Modern Primitives