indigenous tattoo

Ta Moko (tattooing) has always been an important part of Maori culture. Receiving tattoos is an important step to maturity and there are many rites and rituals associated with the event. Every member of a Maori indigenous group had a specific role and a specific place within the social order.

The Haka war dance, meant to intimidate the enemy, is one of the best-known cultural traditions of the Maori. These dances are accompanied by song and body percussion created by clapping hands, stomping feet and slapping thighs. The dance itself involves energetic postures representing warlike and aggressive poses.

Maori chanting follows very strict rules. To break a chant in midstream is to invite disaster or even death for a community. These chants often tell of family lines or the exploits of ancestors.

An individual’s place within society was often signified by their garments and tattoos. People of high social status were always tattooed, whereas indigenous men with no tattoos were considered worthless.


In the Name of God

The Ramnamis are a small hindu sect from central India. As leather-workers they are on the lowest rung of the caste-system, because they process the skins of dead cows and are considered ‘untouchable’. Traditionally this status meant that they were prevented from entering Hindu temples along with the other castes. So, in an expression of their own proud religious convictions, the Ramnamis began the practice of tattooing the name of the god, (Ram) all over their faces and bodies. In this way they wished to show that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and that they have no need of temples to confess their faith. Today the Ramnami tradition continues with its own strand of Hindu belief and outdoor prayer areas, and its members hold their heads high in the knowledge of their devotion to their faith.

Olivia Arthur 2005

Here are the photos I promised! :)

I was going to write something but after the experience I just really have no words. Like I mentioned on my last post on the video clip, it’s just something you have to experience for yourself. 

But I am very thankful to getting to experience this sacred and spiritual tradition handed down to us from our ancestors. There are really no words to describe this experience and I give my humble thanks to Lane, our ancestors, and the diwata.

Day 72: Indigenous Tattooing

Non-indigenous people, stop getting indigenous-based tattoos. You’re wearing gender-specific symbols, family-specific symbols, class or station-specific symbols, symbols that carry stories, symbols that carry power, symbols that can’t be set with a vibrating needle but have to be sewn or stabbed into the body, symbols that are inherited, symbols that are earned, symbols that are worn when you kill, symbols that are worn when you give birth, symbols that are alive, symbols that carry mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, symbols that are found, symbols that are gifts, symbols that dreamt, symbols that mean more than just marks on the skin, symbols that pass with us into death, symbols that protect, symbols that kill. Dream your own symbols. Don’t be lazy, wake up. If I could cut them off you I would. 

The end. 

Here is a video clip someone took of my tattoo session during Lane Wilcken’s Pilipinx tattoo workshop this past Saturday. The session lasted about 1 1/5 to almost 2 hours and yes getting handtapped hurts much less than the machine. There were a few times where I had to close my eyes and breathe but most of the time it was rather painless to the point I was falling asleep.

The sound of the handtapping in the video does not do it justice. The echoes in the room were very weird and eerie as it was quiet and it was night so there was no city noise outside. Everyone could hear it, like there was the echo and then there was another echo in the room that was just, weird that I can’t even describe. Someone, I forget who said that it was alien like lol. But ya the echoes and just the sound of the handtapping was enough to put you into a trance like state.

The experience was very enlightening and spiritual and I could feel the spirits and ancestors around us and Lane and Kristen’s (the girl who volunteered to stretch and experienced how to do it for the first time) spirit as they worked on me. There are really no words to describe this experience and it is definitely something one should experience for themselves to understand. It is not just a work of art, it’s not something we choose, it’s something spiritual, cultural, and sacred and the entire process from the ritual and offerings to the ancestors to the tattoo session to burning, burying, or throwing the offerings from the ritual and your blood that was spilled out to sea is a part of that and I am grateful to have experienced it.