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Modern Primitives Interview: Lyle Tuttle

Lyle TuttleRE/Search: How long has tattooing been around?

Lyle Tuttle: Some of the earliest heavily tattooed people were the Picts, a migratory people who roamed throughout Europe a few thousand years ago. On this continent various American Indian tribes tattooed themselves as well as body-painted themselves, particularly before going to war. If you came from a race that wasn’t tattooed, and all of a sudden some guy jumped out of the bushes who was tattooed all over, you might be scared!

Tattooing has always been associated with warriors; it’s possible that early man figured out that men who were tattooed had a better survival rate from wounds, because a tattoo is a wound-maybe it develops the antibody system…maybe tattoo wounds prepare the warrior for battle wounds. Tattooing: the first inoculation!

In Burma there’s a legend about a king who lost his favorite concubine. Night after night girls were brought to him, and none of them pleased him. One night a beautiful young transvestite was brought to him, and the king, being drunk, was fooled. When he discovered the deception, he cut off the head of the procurer and proclaimed an edict that from now on all men had to be tattooed with “pants”!

I went to Samoa to get a tattoo because every Samoan I’d met-man, woman, or child-was enthralled with tattooing, had an ultra-respect for it. Tattooing was a way of deification, in a way. You can be born to a Chief’s family, but if you don’t have that tattoo, you can’t even go into the Chief’s chambers and mix kava, and your word means nothing.


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