Darwin writes of tattooing

Famed English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) who not only upset religious groups and scholars throughout the civilized world with his thoughts on evolution (that man descended from a lower animal form) via his books, the origin of species (1859) and the decent of man (1871).

Also wrote of tattooing, and for this art form to be mentioned in such distinguished company made many people re-look at the tattoo, finding that they were standing at the dawn of a new era in indelible history.

Darwin wrote about tattooing in his journals after meeting many natives with tattoo marks. ‘Most of the men are tattooed, and the ornaments follow the curvature of the body so gracefully, that they have a very elegant effect.

One common pattern, varying in its details, is somewhat like the crown of a palm tree. It springs from the central line of the back, and gracefully curls around both sides. The simile may be a fanciful one, but I thought the body of a man thus ornamented was like the trunk of a noble tree embraced by a delicate creeper.

Many of the elder people had their feet covered with small figures, so placed as to resemble a sock’. Darwin said this of the tattooing when the ‘Beagle’ landed at Tahiti in the November of 1835. He also recorded that the Tahitian ‘women are also tattooed in the same manner as the men, and very commonly on their fingers’ – He also went on to say that he was disappointed in the personal appearance of the women – and that they were far inferior in every respect to the men.

And in New Zealand when the ‘Beagle’ landed there on December the 21st 1835 – he wrote that ‘No doubt the extraordinary manner in which tattooing is here practised, gives a disagreeable expression to their countenances. The complicated but symmetrical figures covering the whole face, puzzle and mislead an unaccustomed eye: it is moreover probable that the deep incisions, by destroying the play of the superficial muscles, give an air of rigid inflexibility’ – Darwin was also told by a young female Maori that ‘We really must just have a few lines (tattooed) on our lips; else when we grow old, our lips will shrivel, and we shall be so very ugly’.

Copyright…Paul Sayce.

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One comment on “Darwin writes of tattooing

  1. paulsayce says:

    Hi Jane – Yes Jock was in ‘Shoestring’ that starred Trevor Eve in a episode entitled ‘Find The Lady’ – Which aired on BBC1 TV on the 2nd of December 1979…This episode was released in video form but as yet I do not think it has appeared on DVD.

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