Orca – Haida art and symbol meaning

Orca – Haida tattoo design meanings

People who intent to decorate their skin with some kind of tattoo claim that the hardest thing is the decision what exactly to choose – animal, some smart quote, the name of your sweetheart, birth dates of kids, etc, etc.

I was not an exception. It took me almost 2 years to decide what will be my first tattoo. I do not like the idea of tattooing names, pets, song’s lyrics, movie heroes and beloved ones names. Time passes by and people change from within, they fall in love with someone else, dislike actors and performers, they find something new that keeps them bright eyed and bushy tailed.
aztec-calendarI have always been interested in pre Columbian civilizations and wanted to ink myself with some of their symbols, gods, etc. The Aztecs, Incas, Maya people and similar cultures from Mesoamerica and South America left a rich heritage but somehow I found their symbols, mythology and gods bloodthirsty and cruel and I did not want to scare my daughter.  Calling back my childhood memories I started to search through the internet resources about tribe traditions and beliefs of North America continent such as Navajo, Apache, Shawnee and many others native inhabitants of this vast territory.

BEAR-TOTEM_artOne day, out of the blue I have discovered the Haida people. Their main territory is the archipelago of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) in northern British Columbia, but a group known as the Kaigani Haida live across the Dixon Entranceon Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. I was profoundly impressed by their mythology, social organization, art and inheritance. Brave warriors and skillful craftsmen they tried to live in harmony and peace with surrounding world showing fine and fulfilling balance between man and the natural and supernatural worlds.  With continued exposure to the pressures, both spiritual and material, of European culture this balance was disrupted, and the traditional Haida way of life came close to extinction. Today, however, the Haida regard their future with hope, bolstered by recent developments that hold great potential for reinforcing their cultural revival.

DY_killerwhale_LRGOne of the most valued and respected animals by Haida people is a killer whale, aka Orca. The Haida peoples have an extremely specific set of beliefs regarding killer whales, and they run strong to this day. These Native Americans establish parallels between killer whales and human life on terra firma. They believe that killer whales function in the water like people do on the earth. They also believe the aquatic creatures are capable of seizing people and turning them into whales. As a result, killers whales that are noticed swimming close to land are thought of as being humans attempting to reconnect with their long-lost kin. Killer Whales often travel in family groups known as pods and also hunt in packs like the wolf so are referred to as sea wolves.

The Whale is a popular symbol for romance as they mate for life.  It is because of this nature that they are known for their strong sense of family values and unity in numbers. Thus, killer whales are frequently regarded as symbols of the importance and value of family. The killer whale design is also connected to strong health. There are believes that killer whales are capable of doing away with illness. When they spot killer whales in the water, they request the banishment of illness by puffing water in the direction of the creature.

todd_baker-orcaHere is one of the Haida legends about the Orca whales.
Once a man found two wolf pups on the beach, he took them to his home and raised them. When the pups had grown, they would swim out in to the ocean, kill a whale, and bring it to shore for the man to eat. Each day they did this, soon there was too much meat to eat and it began to spoil. When the Great Above Person saw this waste he made a fog and the wolves could not find whales to kill nor find they way back to shore. They had to remain at sea, those wolves became sea wolves- orca.




Resources used: