Death’s Head and the Flayed God

Posted: January 6, 2019 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

190103-mexico-archeology-flayed-god-skins-sl-1139a_78cf63caa118b117530e19f583f66811.fit-2000w

I haven’t posted much regarding Polynesian tattoo for a while now, my bad. I really have no excuse other than I have put too much on my plate in terms of side projects while also running my shop.

Such is life.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped doing research; in fact, I continue to add to my timeline of art in relation to human history on a regular basis. I created this timeline when I wrote my book, The Fundamentals… and it has become an obsession ever since.

But that’s another story.

Another reason that I haven’t posted anything is that information isn’t easy to come by and more often than not, requires connecting the dots and finding commonalities between occurrences and instances that have taken place over many hundreds if not thousands of years apart. And in most cases, there simply isn’t enough viable information to make a connection that is germane or consistent.

But because of a recent finding and subsequent published articles, I think that I can finally make a connection to something that I have a personal interest in understanding and that is an obscure Marquesan tattoo motif, Mata Komoe or, Death’s Head.

I’ve written about this before, on this very blog and now I have what I believe is a solid connection to not only the origin of this motif but also to it’s true meaning.

But first, a little back story:

There are two references to the usage of this motif and both come from engravings by Georg von Langsdorff while he accompanied the Russian scientific expedition led by Adam von Krusenstern from 1803-1805, when they visited the Marquesas.

warrior_eng

This symbol intrigued Karl von den Steinen when he visited and documented the islands almost 100 years later. He had not seen it on the skin during his time spent there and no one seemed to recall anyone wearing this image or what it meant. He glossed it as the “Death’s Head” for the likely reason that it was on the back of a warrior and its placement could point to a similar use of the mata hoata as a protective device to look out for potential threats from behind. He may have embellished on the symbol by calling it, “Death’s Head” simply because it loosely resembled a human skull or by some other information that he had obtained.

I found the placement and usage as observed by Langsdorff to be curious for the simple fact that on the warrior engraving, the motif is placed at the center of the back and no place else.

As a tattoo artist, I feel that the presence of the symbol required a specific space or area in order for it to have efficacy and purpose. In terms of the engraving, it’s clear that the symbol is placed at the center of the entirety of the back piece with subsequent images around it; this may have been to make the message of the symbol crystal clear to an observer.

mata_komoe

The second usage of the image is found on an engraving surrounded by other known Marquesan tattoo images and it is slightly more detailed.

Here the image is round, in the shape of a human skull and surrounded by a halo of connected etua (deified ancestors) that could just as easily be a hue’e ka’ake (fighting force, group of warriors).

Placing this image in the center of the back makes me think that the intention is to define a fighting force of elite warriors and not so much an homage to ancestry.

But could it have a completely different intention all together?

A recent article circulating online regarding Xipe Totec, the Mesoamerican diety known as, “The Flayed God” points to a possible connection.

It’s my belief that for many thousands of years, the Pacific Ocean was essentially a well traveled ‘road’ used by Asian cultures (those that possessed the technology to exploit it, namely cultures occupying modern day India/China) to make contact with cultures in Oceania and the Americas. Ancient Asia based cultures possessed the ability to produce sea-faring ships as far back as 5800 BCE. The oldest seafaring boat on record dates from 1550-1300 BCE so even if the technology did not come from an Asian source there is evidence that it did exist, albeit in another part of the world.

By the time of the Olmec around 1500 BCE, a culture so unique that it changed the course of the Americas with Asian derived art and technology, it’s a possibility that the technology required to travel thousands of miles over water was already well established.

Xipe Totec was an important god to the Olmec, Toltec, Aztec and Popoloca, the latter of which constructed temples to the god.

The article states that Xipe Totec was an important deity to many cultures but that the discovery of a temple in Tehuacan, Puebla state, Mexico, is the first of its kind.

Xipe Totec was the god of fertility, spring and harvest. He was also tied to the Earth’s cycle of regeneration. Human sacrifices were made to the god to ensure an abundant harvest and the skin of those sacrificed were flayed from the body and worn by the high priests until they became tight and worn. This was done in honor of the god and to ensure that the sacrifices were effective.

Human sacrifice was performed by many ancient cultures, for a multitude of reasons. The Marquesans were no different. They sacrificed to appease the gods, to bring rain, to ensure a bountiful harvest among other reasons. They were also known to cannibalize, which was not so uncommon an activity back then.

I’ve included a map that shows the relation of Mexico to the Marquesas, to illustrate how a sea-going vessel could easily have traveled between the two points using sea currents, wind and human power.

pacific_map

Does this mean that the Mata Komoe and Xipe Totec have something in common?
Could they the same?

It’s certainly intriguing then that the placement of Mata Komoe on the back of a warrior coincides with the wearing of the skin on the back of the priest to honor the god himself.

According to my time line, settlement of the Marquesas began around 200 BCE, 200 years after the decline of the Olmec culture. The temple built to Xipe Totec was constructed sometime between 1000-1200 CE. The formal date of western contact with the Marquesans happened in 1526, by the Spanish.

A lot can happen in 1000+ years.

And a lot can be shared.

So does this mean that the Death’s Head is a derivative of the god, Xipe Totec?

I can’t say for certain, although the similarities in both concept and design are hard to ignore. I believe that ancient civilizations were in contact with one another on a greater level than we can currently prove.

That being said, the evidence is there: from Asian-esque art created by the Olmec to the commonalites of Polynesian and Asian art, to the presence of seaworthy vessels dating back many thousands of years.

Whatever the answer, it still makes interesting food for thought.

Aloha!
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/temple-flayed-lord-found-mexico-180971165/

https://www.ancient.eu/Olmec_Civilization/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Olmec

https://www.donaldheald.com/pages/books/34467/adam-johann-von-krusenstern/voyage-autour-du-monde-fait-dans-les-annees-1803-1804-1805-et-1806-par-les-ordres-de-sa-majestie

https://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/bronze-age-boat/bronze-age-boat.aspx

https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/specials/timeline/the-dover-bronze-age-boat.htm

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