The people known as Haida and who are credited with being originators of Haida tattoos are a native inhabitants whose original homeland was in Queen Charlotte Islands within the northern part of British Columbia. They can be found in this part to this day and a part of the Prince of Wales Island found in the southwestern part of Alaska. The tattooing of Haida designs did not seem to be common in 1885.
In past tradition its performance was done together with the commemorating of the finishing of a particular cedar-plank house as well as the frontal pole of totem by the potlatch. Potlatches entailed personal property being distributed by the house-chief (host) to the people who had significantly participated in the construction of their house. Every gift was an elevation of the house-chief together with his family’s status and was the special purposes of benefiting the children of the owner. After a long trading of goods, all children of that house got another potlatch name as well as an expensive tattoo that made them have status of high ranks in the community.
A number of Haida tattoos showed family crests and entailed land animals such as the wolf and bear, birds such as the owl, eagle, thunderbird and hawk as well as sea animals such as the shark, killer whale and halibut. Geographical features such as the iceberg and mountains, celestial bodies such as the moon, stars and sun as well as nature materials like yellow cedar, copper and clay were included in the tattoos as well. A family, house or clan owning crests come from the happenings that entail the Haida talk of their oral culture, events that talk about their special community.
The crests tell of the existence of the Haida in this particular world connecting them to objects or creatures in the natural environment as well as to any other clans. Crests also tell of the beginning of significant and supernatural events of the clan’s history. A case in point is a certain Haida woman who was seen some time in the 18th century having a halibut tattoo figure that had bee cut open and tribe’s chief face drawn at the tail that was going to offer protection not only to her but to her kin as well not to drown at sea. Crests also worked as titles of the object onto which they were placed as well as to the geographical region and site that the events took place. Crests embody their own spirits and are a symbol of the special relationships. Therefore the crest as well as the person with the right to make use of it within stories or tattoo rituals differentiates the individual or particular group from the other groups of the Haida as they defined their position individually. Thus the permission to use the crest as well as the permission to make use of the emblem had more value than any human body or object that was use to represent it.
Despite the fact that the Haida tattooing that was done in the past is no more, the recent upcoming of Haida arts could foster as well as provide fresh life that is needed by the old custom. With the help of the famous Haida carver known as Robert Davidson we have hope that we are going to complete all the official arrangements that are needed for a non-permanent lending of the kit that is at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to all the interested parties of the Haida community.
Interested artists can get duplicates as well for their own use. The effort would make for a lasting and permanent answer to the historical roots and common legacy of the Haida communities that were separated by many years of false isolation from the indelible past they had that included Haida tattoos.