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THE CUSTOM OF TATTOOING

SAILORS ADOPTED THIS PRIMITIVE PRACTICE OF MARKING THE SKIN IN
A DESIRE TO ASSURE IDENTITY IN CASE OF DEATH BY SHIPWRECK OR
DROWNING. IT SEEMS TO HAVE ORIGINATED AMONG THE NATIVES OF THE
SOUTH PACIFIC AND SPREAD AS FAR NORTH AS JAPAN, WHERE IT WAS
BROUGHT TO HIGH, ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT UNTIL PROHIBITED BY LAW.
ROMAN CATHOLIC SAILORS WERE THE FIRST TO ADOPT IT, HAVING A
CRUCIFIX TATTOOED ON THEIR BODIES SO THAT IN CASE OF SERIOUS
INJURY OR ILLNESS THEY MIGHT RECEIVE THE LAST RITES OF THEIR
CHURCH AND BURIAL IN CONSECRATED GROUND.
"AND MANY SAILORS, NOT CATHOLICS, WERE ANXIOUS TO HAVE THE
CRUCIFIX PAINTED ON THEM, OWING TO A CURIOUS SUPERSTITION OF
THEIRS. THEY AFFIRM--SOME OF THEM--THAT IF YOU HAVE THAT MARK
TATTOOED ON ALL FOUR LIMBS, YOU MIGHT FALL OVERBOAD AMONG SEVEN
HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND WHITE SHARKS, ALL DINNERLESS,
AND NOT ONE OF THEM WOULD SO MUCH AS DARE TO SMELL AT YOUR
LITTLE FINGER."

Submitter comment: THIS QUOTE IS TAKEN FROM MELVILLE'S "COMPLETE WORKS" (LONDON,
1922). IT IS TAKEN FROM THE "WHITE JACKET" STORY. CAPTAIN
LUMAS HIMSELF HAD A TATTOO ON HIS CHEST AND CLAIMS THAT HE
ALSO HAD ONE ON EACH OF HIS FOUR LIMBS BUT HIS WIFE MADE HIM
REMOVE THEM.

Where learned: MICHIGAN ; MACKINAW ISLAND

Subject headings: 686 Fourths / Quarters
CUSTOM FESTIVAL -- F535
ART CRAFT ARCHITECTURE -- Human or animal body Tattoo
BELIEF -- Sign Geometric figure Cross and its various modifications

Date learned: 09-00-1963

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