Body Modifications as Statement

John Pastore (bwplacar@CANCUN.RCE.COM.MX)
Thu, 18 Jul 1996 17:05:25 +0000

Although very interested, I have only been able to browse the thread
lightly since its beginning, so do excuse me if I'm touching ground
already covered, but for some reason or other my mind drifts back to
the Maori/Biker example of a few days ago, and the "I Love Mama" idea
of a dead soldier's last statement, indicating the 'how' of body
modifications as being statements other than simply fashion.

First I have two questions. Are there recognized symbologies
pertinent to corresponding images within a culture or group of
related cultures? And, if obviously so, could neighboring cultures,
of let's say, Polynesia speaking diverse dialects or languages,
nevertheless, understand the symbology of eachother's tatoos and
such? Could they recognize, for example, the body modifications which
might depict not only a particular person's rank (if such exists),
but also, not just as a warrior, for example, but as a particularly
fierce and successful one? And, if not in the translatability of even
the linguistic manner of sign language, then in the idea of 'body

I can think of several impressions I have had of tatoos which seemed
to have generally modified or matched, or reflected or even
motivated, the character of those who sported them as if in making
external statements intergral to their owner's demeanor or 'body
language'. Examples in U.S. culture of impressions seem to definitely
depict intimidation (as in knives, blood, screaming eagles),
rebellion (marajuana and peace symbols), affection, sympathy, sorrow,
etc. (love of mother, lover, tears, etc), loyalty (flags, banners,
shields and mottos), earthiness in women (flowers and butterflies),
passion (mild sexual and Valentine Day-like depictions), warning
(demons, hostile animals) sexual preoccupation (pornographic
depictions), and narcissim/exhibitionism (full body treatments).

I can easily see how members of highly different cultures would have
different impressions. A snake tattoo in the U.S. could impress a
gambit running from patriotism, through phaillic sexuality, to a
particularly volatile potential for danger, while a Maya observing
the same tattoo would most probably be imressed with what some 400
years of inquisition had impressed: diabolical evil only.

To go on, it would seem feasible that symbologies exist, and even
the symbology of color, and its degree of intensity, might also come
to play, as in the bright, striking colors like a coral snake
indicating warning, and even placement. If so, have any such
symbologies been percieved and catalogued?

I wonder too if when a peson does get a tattoo, if those tattoos
which best reflect their owners, were the products of more impromtu
or more premeditated decision-making?

John Pastore
Hotel Plaza Caribe
Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mx