Haida Tattoos of the Pacific Northwest

Although information about indigenous tattooing in much of the New World is woefully and depressingly lacking, the Pacific Northwest of North America is one spot where some research managed to document a bit of the rich traditions of body modification and tattooing that took place there.

Below are excerpts of the report of anthropologist James G. Swan, made to the Smithsonian in 1874, about what he observed in Port Townsend, W.T. (Washington Territory).

“The chief or head man owns the house, and the occupants are his family and relatives, each one of whom will have on some part of the body a representation in tattooing of the particular figure which constitutes his or her family name or connection. …The chief will have all the figures tattooed on his body to show his connection with the whole. …The principal portion of the body tattooed is the back of the hand and forearm; and a Haidah, particularly the women, can be readily designated from any other northern tribe by this peculiarity. … The drawings of tattoo designs which accompany the carvings were copied by me from the persons of the Indians who came to my office for that purpose.”

"The first one (Plate 4, fig. 1) is the Kahatta or codfish. This was tattooed on the breast of Kitkun, a chief of the Laskeek village of Haidahs, on the east side of Moresby's Island.  Kitkun and his brother Genes-kelos – a carver and tattooer – Kit-ja-gens, one of the head men of the band, and Captain Skedance, chief of the Koona village, with their party gave me the information and descriptions, and from their persons I made the drawings."

“The first one (Plate 4, fig. 1) is the Kahatta or codfish. This was tattooed on the breast of Kitkun, a chief of the Laskeek village of Haidahs, on the east side of Moresby’s Island.
Kitkun and his brother Genes-kelos – a carver and tattooer – Kit-ja-gens, one of the head men of the band, and Captain Skedance, chief of the Koona village, with their party gave me the information and descriptions, and from their persons I made the drawings.”

 "Fig. 2 (tattoo mark) is the Oolala, a mythological being, half man, half bird, similar in all respects to the Thunder bird of the Makah Indians. It lives on high mountains enveloped in clouds and mist, causing the loud thunder and sharp lightning, and destructive alike to man or beast."


“Fig. 2 (tattoo mark) is the Oolala, a mythological being, half man, half bird, similar in all respects to the Thunder bird of the Makah Indians. It lives on high mountains enveloped in clouds and mist, causing the loud thunder and sharp lightning, and destructive alike to man or beast.”


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