Since Greenland became an autonomous country within the Danish Kingdom in 1979, after being a Danish colony since the early 18th century, many changes have been made to restore Greenlandic culture. This includes the revival of one of their ancestral traditions: tattooing.
The new elegant stamps from Greenland now show such tattoos, namely kakiniit. Kakiniit are tattoos on the body (arms, hands, breasts and thighs) whereas tunniit are tattoos on the face. The graceful patterns consist of dots, zigzags, shapes and lines. In the past, tattooing the face was considered part of growing up for Inuit women. They could not marry until their faces were tattooed. Y-shaped markings represent important tools for seal hunting. V-shaped markings on the forehead represent entry into womanhood, stripes on the chin represent a woman’s first period, chest tattoos are applied after birth and symbolise motherhood, and markings on the arms and fingers refer to the legend of Sedna, a sea goddess.
This legend says that the goddess asked her father for help after she had married a raven and was held captive by it. As they flee in a boat, the raven whips up the sea. The father, fearing for his safety and angry at his daughter for putting him in danger, throws her overboard. As Sedna clings to the side of the ship, he chops off her fingertips, knuckles, hands, etc., all of which fall into the sea and become seals, whales and other mammals. The tattoos on the hands and arms are supposed to correspond to the lines where Sedna’s fingers etc. were chopped off. Perhaps this very brutal story is related to the very painful nature of the tattooing. Traditionally, this was done by women with embroidery experience. A thread consisting of a tendon of a caribou was pierced under the skin with a needle made of bone or wood. The tendon was previously soaked with lampblack and seal fat. After tattooing, the tattooed area was sterilised with a mixture of urine and soot.
Today – in the course of the rediscovery of traditional tattoos – the old patterns are still used, but mostly not the old technique that is used for tattoos worldwide.
Stamp of the Month: Greenland 2022
- Date of issue: 2022-08-31
- Size: 30 x 40 mm
- Colour: Multicoloured
- Designers: Paninnguaq Lind Jensen
- Printer: The Lowe-Martin Group
- Printing: Offset lithography
- Value: 3 dkr. – Danish krone