The Inuit’s most important tattoos are those worn on the face and hands. A woman’s first Tunniit is the Talloqut, the chin tattoo she receives when her skills are good enough for her to help fill a role and take on responsibilities in her community. It usually happens around the age of her first menstruation. However, certain circumstances might make it necessary for girls to grow up quickly. If, on the other hand, it was a time of plenty and with many women to shoulder the collective spiritual responsibility, then girls could remain girls for longer.
The shape of the facial tattoos indicates to which group of Inuit one belongs, and they, therefore, vary in appearance among all Inuit groups. The forehead and cheeks, in particular, are group tattoos.
The patterns had an amuletic intention, which was associated with a practice or with tools.
One of the most important inventions in our culture, sinew threads, made it possible to sew garments, qaannat (kayaks) and Umiat (women’s boats). It’s like the invention that stitched our whole existence together, and it also tells you how important it was to be well supplied with them. This is also evident in women’s Tunniit, where sinew thread amulets are strongly represented both as single amulets and in combination with other patterns.
The winter lasts for 8 months in the Arctic, and there are several months of winter darkness in the northernmost regions. The flame of the soapstone lamp is the only source of light and heat and the possibility of hot food. So, with a wish that the flame should not go out, the women also carried the flame as an amulet.
Although the hunters had developed an amazing skill in hunting, through many generations of knowledge of the animals and methods, it also took some luck. So, the woman had lines on her fingers to honour Takannaaluk, whose fingers the sea creatures came from, and whale tails to invoke whales to ensure that the animals were always near their fishing grounds.
The amulet patterns on the back of hands and arms were meant to provide the community with resources for survival. While the amulets on legs were to ensure future children. At the same time, the first thing that a child saw at birth was something beautiful.
Although it is mainly women who both practised and had Tunniit, men also had some tattoos made for whaling or tattoos to cleanse them from an incident or to make amends if they had harpooned an animal that got away where they could not perform the traditions to help the soul of the animal to the right place.