dolphin with bear and moon incorporated
dolphin and shark design
Navy Seal, NY
todd baker, mountain lion
click for large
All original art done by
North America's First Nations Tattoos
Most 19th Century scholars took no interest in
North American native tattooing and very little information can be found. One scholar, A.T. Sinclair surveyed all the literature written about
tattooing and wrote a paper, “Tattooing of the American Indians” which surveyed the records of
tattooing in each geographical area of North America.
17th Century French explorers and missionaries in Eastern Canada wrote some of the most interesting description of
tattooing in North American.
Gabriel Sagard-Theodat’s account of
tattooing among the Hurons, written in1615 reads:
But that which I find a most strange and conspicuous folly, is that in order to be considered courageous and feared by their enemies (the Hurons) take the bone of a bird or of a fish which they sharpen like a razor, and use it to engrave or decorate their bodies by making many punctures somewhat as we would engrave a copper plate with a burin. During this process they exhibit the most admirable courage and patience. They certainly feel the pain, for they are not insensible, but they remain motionless and mute while their companions wipe away the blood that runs from the incisions. Subsequently they rub a black color or powder into the cuts in order that the engraved marks which one sees on the arms of the pilgrims returning form Jerusalem.
Numerous brief references to
tattooing are found in writings of 17th century Jesuit
missionaries whose reports were sent to Paris each and compiled in volumes titled, Jesuit Relations. Jesuit missions were scattered through Canada, and
missionaries reported that
tattooing was practiced by almost all the native tribes they encountered. In 1653, Francois-J. Bressani wrote:
In order to paint permanent marks on themselves they undergo intense pain. To do this they use needles, sharpened awls, or thorns. With these instruments they pierce the skin and trace images of animals or monsters, for example an eagle, a serpent, a dragon, or any other figure they like, which they engrave on their faces, their necks, their chess, or other parts of their bodies. Then, while the punctures which form the designs are fresh and bleeding, they rub in charcoal or some other black color which mixes with the blood and penetrates the wound. The image is then indelibly imprinted on the skin. The custom is so widespread that I believe that in many of these native tribes it would be impossible to find a single individual who is not marked in this way. When this operation is performed over the entire body it is dangerous, especially in cold weather. Many have died after the operation, either as a result of a kind of spasm that it produces, or for other reasons. The natives thus die as martyrs to vanity because of this bizarre custom.
tattooing was often associated with religious and magical practices. It was also used as a symbolic rite of passage at puberty ceremonies.
The Sioux, believed that after death the spirit of the warrior mounts a ghostly horse and sets forth on its journey to the “many lodges” of the afterlife. Along the way the spirit of the warrior meets an old woman who blocks his path and demands to see his tattoos. I he has none, she turns him back and condemns him to return to the world of the living as a wandering ghost.
Many tribes practiced therapeutic
tattooing. The Ojibwa, tattooed the temples, forehead, and cheeks of those suffering from headaches and toothaches that were believed to be caused by malevolent spirits. Songs and dances that were supposed to exorcise the demons accompanied the
Tattooing was also used to honor warriors who had distinguished themselves by bravery in combat. Other Europeans reported the use of
tattooing to record achievements in war. In the Jesuit Relations of 1663, it was reported that an Iroquois chief known to the French as “Nero” bore on this thighs 60 tattooed characters, each of which symbolized an enemy killed with his own hand.
There are few surviving illustrations of
North American native tattoo designs.
| Todd,It is eerie for me to see the beauty of the
dolphin design. I was in fact,
thinking the EXACT same thing (using a lot of the blues). It's
DR. T H Downing, NY
Mahalo! It's beautiful! I will send you a picture when it's done - so you can post it on your website. :-)
"Ho'opa'a 'ia kakou i kekaula o ka wa'a" (We are bound by the cordage of the canoe)