Traditional Sundance Tattoos
This popular traditional tattoo is based on one of the most important religious ceremonies practised by Native American tribes living from southern Canada all the way down to Texas in North America.
As the ceremonies themselves were spread over such a large area and practised by many different tribes, they took on various different forms and meanings. At its core, it is meant to be a request for insight and power from the supernatural.
The ceremony itself would typically include dances and songs passed down through the generations, a scared fire, traditional drumming, fasting, prayer and sometimes piercing. A central pole would be erected to symbolise a connection to the divine – embodied by the sun. The dance itself was a gruelling test of endurance for the participants. Those who committed to it did so to fulfil a vow, as a personal attempt to gain spiritual insight and power and also as a form of sacrifice for the betterment of their community. They would begin to dance at an appointed hour and would continue to do so intermittently for several days and nights during which they weren’t permitted to eat or drink. Some interpretations involved the use of piercing. This usually involved a ritual leader inserting several skewers or needles through a dancers chest or back. Leather thongs were then tied from the piercing to various heavy objects such as buffalo skulls and the participant would then drag the object along the ground until the skin tore free or they collapsed from exhaustion.
One of the first and most famous instances of this ritual crossing over and being captured in tattooing was a painting by Bert Grimm. The painting focuses on a woman dancing, knee raised, holding a shield with the sun prominent behind her. It is a hugely recognisable piece of traditional tattooing even today.
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34 Cheshire Street
London, E2 6EH
020 7175 0133