Thursday, 11 October 2012

Inuit Tattooing

"Archaeological evidence in the form of a carved human figurine demonstrates that tattooing was practised as early as 3,500 years ago in the Arctic. Remains of several mummies discovered in Bering Strait and Greenland indicate that tattooing was an element basic to ancient traditions"

Asiatic Eskimos "Stitching the skin" at indian Point Chukotka 1901
As a general rule, expert tattoo artists were respected elderly women. Their extensive training as skin seamstresses (Parkas, pants, boots, hide boat covers, etc) facilitated the need for precision when "Stitching the human skin" with tattoos.

There seems to have been no widely distributed tattoo design among Eskimo women, although chin patterns or "stripes" were more commonly found than any other. Chin stripes served multiple purposes in social contexts. Most notably, they were tattooed on the chin as part of the ritual of a social maturity, a signal to men that a woman has reached puberty. They  also served as protection during enemy raids, as women's lives would be spared because their skills were valuable; tattooed chins/faces would make them more recognisable as women.

It was believed that a girl who smiled and laughed too much would cause the lines to spread and get thick. A girl with a full set of lines on the chin, all of them thin, was considered to be a good prespect as a wife, for she was clearly serious and hard working.

There are many other reasons for tattooing, for example:
 a man may be tattooed after his first kill
body parts would be tattooed to avoid supernatural possession
certain tattoos may signify status

I really love the thin tattoos on the chin. Many other tribes over the world would use large shapes and bold lines, which is why I really love the more delicate tattoos. I think these tattoos are very individual to these types of tribes.  

Authentic style facial tattoos on Sylvia Iyalu (playing "Atuat") from the Inuit-produced film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)

Very simple but I think they are stunning.


  1. Inuit are called Eskimos by settlers and is a colonized term. Also some of your info is problematic to incorrect. What are your sources?

  2. In Alaka they are not as thin skinned and referr to themselfs as 'Eskimo' to include non Inuit (Canadians), Inupiat, Inupiaq, Yupik, C'upik, Siberian Yupik, and Alutiq. Thats why the names remain ''Alaska Eskimo Walrus commission'' The Eskimo Whaling commission, as well, folks refer to them selfs as Eskimo all the time and take no shame; the own that word, at least here in Arctic Alaska