Inuit facial tattoos
September 16, 2014 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Between the Lines: tracing the controversial history and recent revival of Inuit facial tattoos.
posted by Rumple (15 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for this. I was not aware of Inuit tattoos, or Up Here magazine.

For those wondering about the film mentioned in the article – Iqaluit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos – looks like it's not yet available online or on DVD, but you can sign up for updates.
posted by Kabanos at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2014


This is in some ways really interesting, but the treatment of religion is problematic.
posted by Jahaza at 10:58 AM on September 16, 2014


I mean, I bet Edmund Peck ate pork. So if he was opposed to (or an influence against) tattooing, I bet it had more to do with its perception as a pagan custom than with Leviticus.
posted by Jahaza at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2014


Leviticus was/is selectively enforced. I imagine it was more convenient if the indigenous people were doing something that squarely fell into a prohibition, like making and worshipping idols, or tattooing. But like all missionaries, Peck was a genocidaire - his goal was to destroy some or all of the local culture and replace it with his foreign religion.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:34 AM on September 16, 2014


Most Protestant missionaries I've encountered don't oppose things because they are in Leviticus (or some other bible chapter). They oppose the things that are tied with traditional religion. Hence, missionaries will eat pork but shun local medicine, tattooing, and other practices.
posted by kanewai at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


the treatment of religion is problematic

It really, really, really, really isn't. It's true.

Most Protestant missionaries I've encountered don't oppose things because they are in Leviticus (or some other bible chapter). They oppose the things that are tied with traditional religion. Hence, missionaries will eat pork but shun local medicine, tattooing, and other practices.

Lemme guess: Heterosexual?

(FWIW, differences between Christianity and its Judaic roots aren't just because. Kashrut went out the window in Acts 10. Circumcision, shmircumcision: Paul said so. And so on. Unless there's an explicit "feh" in the New Testament, everything in the Old Testament theoretically still applies to Christians. Many denominations aren't at all strict about much of anything, which is nice, but many others, especially the ones that are really into proselytising, are really into rules.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:38 PM on September 16, 2014


That is such an excellent piece; so sparely written, and yet so dense with implication.

Including this fascinating bit:
The oldest firm evidence of indigenous tattooing in North America is an ivory mask found on Devon Island, now at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The face is decorated in much the same way the last tattoos were recorded in modern-day Nunavut. Radial lines branch down from the centre of the lips to the edges of the chin, arrowheads point in towards the corners of the mouth from the cheeks and several lines converge from the forehead to the base of the nose. The mask is radiocarbon-dated to 3,500 years.
The ancestors of the Inuits were nowhere near Devon island 3500 years ago, or even as late as 1100 AD.

3500 years ago and up until sometime between 1100 AD and 1300 AD, Devon island was occupied by Paleo-Eskimos we call the Dorset people, who "thrived in isolation for more than 4,000 years, only to vanish in a matter of decades," apparently without leaving any descendants at all, according to a recent study which looked at their DNA and found no traces of it among the Inuit.

I think it would be mysterious and deeply poignant if it turns out that their tattoos somehow jumped the gap their DNA could not.
posted by jamjam at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


It really, really, really, really isn't. It's true.

No... it presents a 20th/21st Evangelical proof-texting criticism of tattooing by people who sent e-mail as somehow largely relevant to understanding a 19th century English Anglican's perspective on the practice.

Lemme guess: Heterosexual?

Lemme guess, not 19th century?

(FWIW, differences between Christianity and its Judaic roots aren't just because. Kashrut went out the window in Acts 10. Circumcision, shmircumcision: Paul said so. And so on. Unless there's an explicit "feh" in the New Testament, everything in the Old Testament theoretically still applies to Christians.Basically, you especially the ones that are really into proselytising, are really into rules.)

Basically you have no idea what you're talking about, eh? There's lots of things to which there's no explicit "feh" to in the New Testament that all sorts of Christians who are "really into rules" don't see as binding.
posted by Jahaza at 1:51 PM on September 16, 2014


It doesn't matter whether Edmund Peck really opposed tattooing because of culture shock or Leviticus. Yeah, if you're digging into his personal psychology, it was probably the former. But he put the Bible into the minds and culture of the Inuit, and the prescriptions of the Bible are the reason they didn't tattoo (or drumdance or throatsing) for a long time. (In my experience, Native people remain more devout Christian than modern non-Native Canadians on the whole -- just a personal observation, I don't have an explanation.) So Leviticus is what needs to be pushed back against, not whatever Edmund Peck's internal, unconscious reasoning was.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:50 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


But he put the Bible into the minds and culture of the Inuit, and the prescriptions of the Bible are the reason they didn't tattoo (or drumdance or throatsing) for a long time.

Except that there appears to be reasons why the practice fell out of use for other reasons. Grigory Langsdorff, for instance, says that it was much less common in Russian Alaska because the Russians "have made the young women understand that they do not consider their beauty as increased by them, and this has rather brought them into disrepute," a cultural reason that is not a religious one.

And some of the accounts of facial tattoos of the Inuit suggest that the tatoos weren't neccesarily seen by some Inuit at least in later times as being particularly religious.

So while we can all enjoy a little hurf durf Leviticus, it might be interesting to know the actual reasons that they did tattooing and why the practice faded.
posted by Jahaza at 3:13 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Funny, I cued on to the other religious aspect: the cultural tradition of convincing young women to get various tattoos so they could access the afterlife. That squicks me out as much as any Leviticus prohibition, honestly, but I still enjoyed the heck out of this article and sent it to my (tattooed, atheist, pregnant) friend because the image of tattoos as embroidery for newborns to enjoy was just too wonderful not to.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:24 PM on September 16, 2014


But he put the Bible into the minds and culture of the Inuit, and the prescriptions of the Bible are the reason they didn't tattoo (or drumdance or throatsing) for a long time.

Except that there appears to be reasons why the practice fell out of use for other reasons. Grigory Langsdorff, for instance, says that it was much less common in Russian Alaska because the Russians "have made the young women understand that they do not consider their beauty as increased by them, and this has rather brought them into disrepute," a cultural reason that is not a religious one.


That's a highly questionable source, Jahaza, since it describes conditions on an Aleutian island thousands of miles away from Taloyoak Nunavit, among a people, the Aleuts, who speak a different language than the Inuits, and who were at the time in dire straits after a campaign of massacres carried out by Russians in prior decades -- and the reason the young women care that Russians think the tattoos make them less beautiful in the first place appears to be that the tattoos reduce their value to Russians as prostitutes.

But anything, no matter how far-fetched and flimsy, to exculpate the Bible, eh?
posted by jamjam at 8:16 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


But as Jacob Peterloosie of Pond Inlet told Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, sometimes the traditional practices had no purpose at all outside of being beautiful and making people happy.

This is a fantastic article, and the photographs are amazing.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:12 PM on September 16, 2014


Basically you have no idea what you're talking about, eh? There's lots of things to which there's no explicit "feh" to in the New Testament that all sorts of Christians who are "really into rules" don't see as binding.

If that is the case, which it may well be, I would genuinely love to know of some examples.

You commented: "I mean, I bet Edmund Peck ate pork. So if he was opposed to (or an influence against) tattooing, I bet it had more to do with its perception as a pagan custom than with Leviticus." I refuted that by mentioning Acts 10, see link above, which is the reason Christians are allowed to eat pork. Perhaps I do not know what I am talking about.

And, I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but Christian missionaries (especially when acting in concert with government) are at the very top of the list of perpetrators of cultural genocide against indigenous peoples in Canada, America, Australia,* and pretty much every other place touched by European imperial colonialism. Your objection to the (frankly, quite restrained) treatment of religion in this article betrays a rather tremendous lack of empathy, perspective, understanding, and elementary school level historical knowledge.

* Those are just three examples that happen to be similar to each other, that have been in the news lately, and that are somewhat relevant to the post. There are many, many, many others to be found by following the links in those links.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:12 PM on September 17, 2014


You commented: "I mean, I bet Edmund Peck ate pork. So if he was opposed to (or an influence against) tattooing, I bet it had more to do with its perception as a pagan custom than with Leviticus." I refuted that by mentioning Acts 10, see link above, which is the reason Christians are allowed to eat pork. Perhaps I do not know what I am talking about.

Actually, you didn't refute my point, you confirmed it, which is that the use that Christians put to the Old Testament is not literal adoption of its prohibitions. So it's silly to simply suggest that because Edmund Peck read the Old Testament he was against tattooing in the abscense of any actual evidence that he opposed the practice or tried to irradicate it.

If that is the case, which it may well be, I would genuinely love to know of some examples.

In the same chapter of Leviticus as the prohibition on tattooing:

"You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind."

"You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed,"

"nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material."

"You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard."

Mules, companion planting, mixed textiles, and shaving are all generally accepted by Christians without an "explicit 'feh' ... in the New Testament."

I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but Christian missionaries (especially when acting in concert with government) are at the very top of the list of perpetrators of cultural genocide against indigenous peoples in Canada, America, Australia,* and pretty much every other place touched by European imperial colonialism.

While I'd not put it quite that way, I never stated that this was not the case.

Your objection to the (frankly, quite restrained) treatment of religion in this article betrays a rather tremendous lack of empathy, perspective, understanding, and elementary school level historical knowledge.

Exactly which "elementary school level" historical fact have I disagreed with? That Christian missionaries attempted to change the cultures they encountered? I didn't disagree with that. But we should attempt to understand their reasons, not just make up BS about why they acted the way they did. For one thing, that understanding will help prevent further cultural destruction by modern missionary groups.
posted by Jahaza at 5:59 AM on September 18, 2014


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