Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tattooed New France

I came across this neat online review and glimpse of the inside of a new book, Mauvais Garçon: Portaits de tatoués  which reproduces and analyses photographs taken by the French authorities of the tattooed bodies of some rough fellows who passed through the Bataillons d'Afrique during the 1890s-1930s.  The photos are quite striking, and actually not without reminding me of tattooing in New France. 

A tattooed Odawa man in the
late-seventeenth-century Codex
Canadiensis.  Source: LAC.
In North America, Europeans encountered the practice among indigenous peoples.  The French referred to it as "piquage", i.e. pricking (the modern word "tatouage", like the English one, is Tahitian in origin and only entered the language as a result of the Pacific explorations of the 1770s).  The subject of tattooing in New France has been rather well researched at this point.  Over a decade ago a certain Carolyn Christina Cross wrote an M.A. thesis on "Body Marking Within New France" (available online here); Stephanie Chaffray touched on the subject in her Ph.D. dissertation (also available online); more recently, Arnaud Balvay did too in L'Épée et la Plume (much of which is available via Googlebooks).

There is some juicy material on the subject in the historical records, but my favourite is what Captain Pécaudy de Contrecoeur wrote to his eldest son, who had just joined the Troupes de la Marine and was about to depart on his first campaign: "Take good care not to commit the foolishness of having yourself tattooed: I prohibit it."

Mothers and fathers, don't let your children grow up to be French colonial soldiers.


1 comment:

  1. La mémoire sur la peau

    Arnaud Balvay, étudiant au doctorat en histoire, explore les différentes significations du tatouage en Nouvelle-France

    Soldat Sanspareil
    Chevalier de St-Véran
    2ème bataillon du régiment de la Sarre
    Vive le Roy!
    François Mitterrand
    Un peuple qui n’enseigne pas son histoire est un peuple qui perd son identité