The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

Tattoos Represent Status, Spiritual Devotion Among Haida

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The Leader Post delves into the age-old practice of tattooing by the Haida peoples:

…the Haida practiced tattooing for generations before European contact.
“The tattoo marks themselves were indicative of status, spiritual devotion and decoration,” the centre explains on its website.
Individuals expressed their part in a social unit, a moiety, or a lineage through body art and adornment. In this sense, tattoos put a person’s identity and spiritual connections on display through the use of crest figures and/or guardian spirits.
The designs used for tattooing were usually acquired through heredity, and crests of the bearer were dependent on their lineage.
First, the design was drawn onto the person to be tattooed in a dark pigment. The design would then be pricked in with the needles, and then more pigment would be rubbed into the design in order to achieve the desired hue. Rarely did the chiefs do the tattooing themselves; instead, they hired skilled tattoo artists to perform the work. For men, tattoos were generally placed on the chest, the upper back between the shoulders, upper and lower arms, and the front of thighs and lower legs. For women, the chest, the shoulders, the forearms, hands and lower leg were tattooed.
When a chief held a potlatch he would select individuals to be honoured with tattoos, which would be unveiled during a dance at the potlatch. “Even little kids were invited to this process but they weren’t tattooed until they stopped growing. The family would pay in blankets, and paint designs on their kids, a way of preparing them to go through the ceremony as they got older.”
If someone from the Raven clan was to receive a tattoo, a high-ranking Eagle clan member would observe the tattoo process; a witness would validate the process and be compensated at the potlatch.

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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