Currently reading : Haida Tattooing
Many of Canada’s First Nations groups have a long history of artistic production and body modification, having developed their own styles, motifs, and techniques that date back to the pre-contact period. Among these groups is British Columbia’s Haida people, who are said to have practiced tattooing for thousands of years prior to the arrival of European colonizers. Later, Haida tattooing was observed and documented by Europeans in the form of photographs and drawings, which now act an invaluable record of a cultural practice that has largely disappeared. The reasons for the decline of tattooing amongst the Haida are varied, but was surely aided by the arrival of missionaries who discouraged tattooing and the banning of the potlatch, a feasting and gift giving ceremony that tattooing was often practiced at.
Sketches by J.G. Swan, 1879. Beinecke Library.
Portrait of Chief Xana showing his chest and arm tattoos from W.H. Collison’s “In the Wake of the War Canoe”. Photographer uncredited.
Johnny Kit Elswa showing his arm and chest tattoos. A.P. Niblack, 1886. Smithsonian.
Chief Gitkun (Kitkun) with codfish chest tattoo, and salmon on lower arms. Left: A.P. Niblack photo. Right: J.G. Swan sketch.
Sketches of Chief Gitkun’s tattoos around figure that represents Johnnie Kit-Elswa with frog tattoo on chest. A.P. Niblack, 1886.
Stylized version of J.G Swan’s 1886 sketches of people from Haida Gwaii. The man’s tattoos are based on Chief Gitkun’s.