A picture may be worth a thousand words but for many Indigenous people, a tattoo can convey your whole genealogical story. Skindigenous, a new docu-series airing Tuesdays on APTN, explores tattooing traditions around the world and how they’ve merged ancient and modern techniques.
With stops in the Philippines, Samoa, Hawaii, New Zealand and Mexico — as well as Canadian destinations such as British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland — the series visits various tattoo artists who are shaping their art with symbols and traditions unique to their cultures. “This crest belongs to the Eagle/Shark Woosh Kee Taan clan in Angoon, Alaska. The design was created by David R. Boxley, a Tsimshian from Metlakatla, Alaska,” says First Nations fine artist Nakkita Trimble, who’s based in B.C.
“I was given permission to hand-poke tattoo this crest on this client. There was a set of protocols that went into the designing and tattooing this House Crest; the wearer of this crest has been represented accurately following the protocol of his Nation.” “Each tattoo is a unique creation and bears on the individual’s personal experience and family history. The Hawaiian tattoo tradition that (tattoo artist Keone Nunes) practices includes a large number of recurrent designs, motifs and symbols that pack genealogical, geographical and historical information. These designs can only be placed on Native Hawaiians,” says Jean-François Martel, the director of the Hawaii episode.
“On the other hand, Hawaiian tattoos can also incorporate a number of noa designs, which are non-genealogical symbols that hold a more spiritual function. These can be placed on the body of non-Hawaiians and Hawaiians alike.”
Martel says rows of black triangles are called niho niho, which symbolize sharks’ teeth and have protective function. A row is seen on the right side of the foot (pictured above right) and four rows are in the centre of the shoulder (pictured above centre). “Traditional Inuit tattoos were a rite of passage or to mark an event — womanhood, marriage, giving birth, first seal hunt. They were also a form of protection, like carrying your ancestors with you,” says Sonia Bonspille Boileau, the director of the Alaska episode.
“Some tattoos were simply adornments. Now these tattoos are mostly to affirm a strong sense of pride in one’s Inuit identity. Strong Inuit women proud of wearing who they are on their skin.”
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