Currently reading : Kayan Tattoo Models

Kayan Tattoo Models

25 March 2014

Author : julia-silverman


These tiny tattooed arm and leg models come from the collection of Charles Hose, a colonial officer and amateur naturalist who travelled to Borneo from 1884 through 1904. Hose, who produced a book The Pagan Tribes of Borneo with English anthropologist William McDougall in 1912, was known for collecting ethnological and zoological “specimens,” which he later sold and donated to various collections, including the British Museum where these are currently housed.


The tiny hands and feet here (approx. 20 cm in length), with motifs scratched, carved, and incised into the wood, seem to have functioned almost as 3-dimensional maps or guides for placement. In fact, Kayan people were known to create woodblock prints of proposed tattoos, to be smeared with ink and stamped on the skin of the person being tattooed to create a template. (Although I wonder why the tattoo stamps in the British Museum’s collection don’t display ink remnants…) In any case, the small holes at the top of the arms and legs displayed here suggest they were carried around by a string of some sort, perhaps with other materials in a kit, but other than serving as guides or keepsakes, I do wonder exactly how these little objects were used…


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