Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

1. Tattooing Ritual and the Management of Touch in Polynesia

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Sébastien Galliot [+-]
Centre for Research and Documentation on Oceania, Marseilles
Sébastien Galliot is a cultural anthropologist at the Centre for Research and Documentation on Oceania in Marseilles. Between 2001 and 2013 he has extensively studied the transmission and the transnational diffusion of Samoan tattooing ritual, and has recently issued two books: Tatau. A cultural History of Samoan Tattooing, written with Sean Mallon, Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2018. Le tatouage samoan. Un rite polynésien dans l’histoire. Paris: CNRS, 2019. Switching his fieldwork area from Samoa to Yap in Micronesia, he is currently researching areca nuts supply chains within a multi-site and global approach from Yapese gardens and lagoons to corner shops in Guam and Saipan.


Religions are just as much action plans than systems of faiths. They involve, to equal part, the spirit and the body, the interiority and the physicality. The acting out of faith or in other words its material anchorage is moreover a component of all religious life as well as of the emergence of any believers' community. Moreover, Numerous recent researches in the field of religious materiality have shed light on the importance of the physical relationship to certain artefact in votive practices. In contrast, the process of acquisition of knowledge which establish the particular status of the religious specialists have been subject to less scrutiny. For the religious specialists and ritual experts, touch, material actions, techniques of the body and the embodied knowledge belong to a category of skills that are integral part of the permanent and canonical aspects of any liturgy. At the same time, access to religious authority critically depends on access to these knowledges. If understood as a set of physical, sensory and kinaesthetic abilities, ritual or religious knowledge is not very different from the professional skills of craftsmen. By approaching religion from the point of view of the specialists’ skills, this paper endeavours to debate on the classic distinction between ritual action and technical action. Using ethnographic literature and first hand fieldwork data, this contribution will explore the role of touch and physical sensations in certain religious practices, in particular within tattooing ritual practices of South-East Asia and in the Pacific.

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Galliot, Sébastien . 1. Tattooing Ritual and the Management of Touch in Polynesia. Religion and Touch. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 25-50 Sep 2021. ISBN 9781800500334. Date accessed: 24 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42169. Sep 2021

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