Encyclopedia of Body Adornment

By Margo Demello | Go to book overview

P

PACIFIC NORTHWEST INDIANS

The native people of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including Alaska, Washington, and Canada, includes such diverse groups as the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, Puyallup, Snohomish, Nez Perce, and the Makah. First populated by Asians who migrated over the Bering Land Bridge into North America starting about 18,000 years ago, the first Europeans to explore the region were Russians in the eighteenth century. Many of the tribes in the region practiced tattooing, lip piercing, and nose piercing.

Cheek plugs, labrets, and nose ornaments of all kinds have been found in archaeological sites throughout Alaska, the west coast of Canada, and the Pacific Northwest in the United States.

The first European reports in 1769 mentioned women with facial tattoos consisting of lines which radiated from the mouth to the jaw, similar to chin tattoos among other Native American tribes, as well as those which extended from the nose to the ears. Other tattoos included tattooed lines across the foreheads, as well as tattoos on the neck, arms, hands, and feet. Among all the groups, women are more commonly tattooed than men, and for women, the chin tattoo was the most common, received when a girl reached puberty. Transgendered boys, known as schopans in some tribes, were also tattooed with the chin tattoo, and were highly valued as wives. The tattoo technique in the Pacific Northwest Coast was to use a sharp tool to puncture the skin, followed by rubbing soot into the wounds. Certain tattoos were also associated with whaling, but for the most part, tattoos were used as part of rites of passage initiating young women and men into adulthood, protection, status, and identification.

In some tribes, both men and women wore labrets, or large plugs inserted into holes below the lower lip, and both men and women had their septum pierced. In some tribes, however, where women wore the chin tattoo, men wore the labret, while in others, only women wore the labret. Labrets were sometimes as wide as the lips, and were made of stone, bone, wood, and ivory. Sometimes bones were worn through the septum piercing and occasionally in the lip hole, and sometimes beads were strung from the septum piercing, hanging down in front of the mouth. Beads were also strung from the labrets (into which holes had been drilled), creating the appearance of a beaded beard.

Some tribes sliced open the lip in order to receive the first labret 20 days after birth; other tribes waited till puberty, or even till adulthood. For girls it was common to slice the lips during an initiation ritual which begins after her first

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Encyclopedia of Body Adornment
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Guide to Related Topics xi
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • A 1
  • B 23
  • C 55
  • D 91
  • E 93
  • F 109
  • G 125
  • H 139
  • I 155
  • J 167
  • L 175
  • M 181
  • N 197
  • O 207
  • P 211
  • R 229
  • S 233
  • T 255
  • W 291
  • Y 295
  • Z 297
  • Resource Guide 301
  • Bibliography 305
  • Index 319
  • About the Author 327
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