The rings of a tree

I first saw this photo on Brian‘s page a few days ago, so when I saw he had submitted it to his portfolio gallery I made sure to get it up as soon as possible.  Now there is a fantastic story behind this piece, and since Brian explained it so nicely, I’ll let his words explain the bands.

I don’t remember if i posted about this last year, but here is some scar work i did on a young, Native American girl. In her Blackfoot tribe it is customary to have a line scarred around their arm for each year they’re alive. It is known as Ponn Miistis, which literally translates to “the rings of a tree”. When they run out of room on one arm they move to the other, then the legs, but apparently their average life expectancy is only 43.

Anyhow, her parents are more modernized now and didn’t want her having this done while she was growing up. She was intrigued by her grandfather’s rings, which covered his arms and legs, so decided to come to me from Montana to catch up. Last year i worked on her upper arm and finished it up this time. She’s 24 now.

She promises to be back every year for another line, too!

I love the fact that not only is this scarification so deeply personal for the girl, it is also a way to remind the rest of us where our modifications come from.  When I read news stories talking about a “new trend” of people getting scars, it saddens me to think that we live in a world where the vast majority has no concept of just how significant cultural rituals involving modification are.  Of course I’m speaking from a North American perspective.  There are many places the world over where not only are these rituals remembered, they are still practiced.  Thanks to this brave young woman, and Brian’s talents as an artist, the people she encounters in her life will be able to learn of a tradition that has faded away.

28 thoughts on “The rings of a tree

  1. That is awesome. The Rings are so beautifully cut, and form such striking scars! I hope we’ll see a follow up on this ’cause I can only imagine how beautiful it will be.

  2. unexpectedly, I had an emotional reaction to this. It’s funny I’ve never felt “triggered” by anything in the past, but for some reason something not at all related to self injuring stirred up those feelings in me.

    I’m not complaining, though. It’s done beautifully, and I love the tradition behind it.

  3. re: meow, so a cultural ritual, one signifying life, makes you want to self-harm? wow.

  4. Well I saw the image before reading the blurb on it. It’s not like I said to myself, “oh yeah those tree rings make me want to cut!!”

  5. oh, this is so beautiful!

    and i can see these pics may be triggering, i guess it’s because they are so beautiful, straight, bright red _lines_ . But well, you (and me too) will probably not be able to do something like this piece, so yeah.

    and on another note i don’t really mind the “tradition” to fade out today. Yep, it’s interesting to see how other cultures modiefied themselves, but I live in another culture and have none of this ritual-background. This does not mean that this stuff should disappear or such, just that it often seems to me like the cultural rituals are seen in a romantic way/glorified that does not appeal to me.

  6. That looks really nice and i appreciate her keeping in touch with her roots. But as i myself don’t have any ancestors that i know of relating to bodymodification in any way, i also support the new era of everyone doing whatever they want 🙂

  7. I wouldn’t mind having something like this done over top of my self harm scars, as a reminder to myself that i’ve survived however many years of depression, and that i can keep going to earn one more ring

    on the technical side i’d be worried they would merge with my current scars and just become a mess 🙁

  8. although i’d probably feel bad about appropriating from a culture that i have no links to whatsoever

  9. plus i’d feel bad about appropriating from a culture that i have no links to whatsoever

  10. Those are beautiful, and her appreciation for the old ways of her culture make it even more so.

  11. I am in love with this. It is aesthetically stunning and I can relate very much to getting modifications that my ancestors have done. Beautiful work 🙂

  12. re: Cortex #11… My stance on cultural misappropriation has changed in the four years or so since I left IAM. I used to play the crusader on all things Maori, the controversy around ta moko vs. kirituhi and all that. I still think people are douchebags when they get Maori style facial tattoos and call them “moko”, but you can’t stop people. The world has become a global village, we’re all in each others back pockets now, and participating in some kind of dialogue around cultural traditions, their growth and evolution, the borrowing of another cultural’s rites to incorporate into your own, isn’t a bad thing.

    If anything it carries one culture’s practises through a time when they may have been discontinued in their culture of origin, perhaps to be picked up again by the originating culture.

    After all, it was a Pakeha man (Roger Ingerton) who carried the tradition of ta moko through the time when it had stopped being done, kuia Maori came to him to have their chins adorned! Now you can’t open your eyes without seeing Maori with ta moko running down their arms, across their chests, or across their shoulder blades, a total cultural renaissance!

    This girl has gone to a practitioner who is not of her culture to have this cultural practise carried out. I think that’s totally in keeping with this new world we live in.

  13. I adore this, and I think it’s incredibly awesome and respectable that she is keeping her heritage alive!

  14. I love this! I love the healed look and I love the way they come up against the elbow without traversing it. Awesome work!

  15. This reminded me instantly of The Fountain. I wonder if that’s where the writer got the idea? Either way, beautiful

  16. I can’t find anything more on it from google. 🙁 I really wanted to know more about this…

    It looks awesome. Does anyone else notice that you can see how it makes a visible divot where the skin is cut away? (I guess this happens with all scarifications, but the side of her arm looks bumpy and I thought it was kind of cool.)

  17. Amazing tribute to her ancestry and people.

    As for “appropriation”, culture that is static will die. It is the mixing and mingling of cultures that cultures grow, expand and continue.

  18. I have no problem with body modification. I wouldn’t do it just because I have very VERY low pain tolerance, lol. But I see these and I’m at once like “ow, ow, ow, that looks painful.” but then again, they’re so beautiful, clean and colorful. (:

  19. I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but I’m registered Blackfoot from the Amskaapipikani (Blackfeet) band in Montana. I also have relatives in the Kainai (Blood) band in Canada. I am very involved in my culture, I speak the language, practice the spirituality, but I have never heard of this.

    The Blackfoot translation is correct, so I thought maybe this was a Society thing I’d never heard about so I asked around people from my band and people from the three Canadian bands that I know who in turn asked people they knew, including elders.

    Niitsitapi (what we call ourselves) never scarified ourselves for age markers. The closest thing I can get to this is that when a family member died (usually only done for males, but also done for females who took a man’s role in life), we would slash our arms and legs and scarify our calves in mourning and many people had deep scars from that.

    I’m not saying this practice doesn’t have deep meaning for her and maybe her grandfathers family were told to do this by Creator, so it may be family history, but it’s not Blackfoot history.

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