Tribal stencils have literally been around as long as man kind. The very oldest humans found had tattoo design we would describe as tribal. Many culutures including the Maori and Asian cultures use tribal tattoo designs to mark events in there lives and also to show there status in society.
Tribal tattooing was originally popularized by Leo Zeoluta in the 1970's, who brought islander type tattooing to San Francisco. No one anticipated that tribal tattoing would grow to such a large part of American tattooing. The commom tribal sleeves and back pieces of today owe their origins to these original designs of the Pacicifc Islanders, though all meanings have been lost.