Belleoram, Bonne Bay and Tattoos


What do Belleoram, Bonne Bay and a tattoo have in common?

That's not a joke,1 it's a piece of Newfoundland trivia.  

All three owe their English names to Captain James Cook.  Cook, who was a noted explorer/cartographer, sailed around Newfoundland in the 1760s. Cook renamed the island's south coast settlement of Bande l'Arier to Belleoram and, under Cook's pen, Baya Ederra became Bonne Bay.  After Cook's time on the Newfoundland coast, he headed to the South Pacific.  

Captain James Cook
It was while Cook was in the South Pacific that he saw people practicing tatau, or what we could call tattoo.  Tatau is a Tahitian word. The word appeared in English, for the first time, in a 1769 account of Captain Cook's voyage. At the time it was spelled tattaw. It is Cook's account of the tatau practice in the South Pacific that led to the popularization of the English term tattoo.

I don't know whether Cook ever got tattooed but, reportedly many of the sailors on Cook's ship, The Endevour, did.  If Cook did get 'inked' he would have fit right in back in Newfoundland.  According to a 2015 CBC article, Newfoundland is probably Canada's most tattooed province. Apparently one in three Newfoundlanders2 has a tattoo and, while I don't keep score, that number doesn't surprise me.  I see tattoos all the time... and not just when I look in the mirror.

Damhnait Doyle: Tattooed


Getting ahead of the tattoo renaissance, Damhnait Doyle's lead single from her 2000 release Hyperdramatic was a catchy tattoo-themed pop-moment. The video is stylish, and while the CGI kinda pales by 2021 standards it was pretty impressive for the turn of the century.  

If you know me IRL, or maybe even if you paid close attention to my videos, you've seen that I'm one of the Newfoundlanders vying to keep our province's place atop the tattooed heap. You're welcome

I get asked about my tattoos fairly frequently.

The number one question I get asked is how many tattoos do I have.  My stock response is it's easier, at this point, just to say I'm tattooed. Honestly, I don't know how many tattoos I have.  I'm not even sure how to count.  

My first tattoo was a Labrador retriever wearing a shirt and tie.  It was drawn from an image of my own dog and it really, really looks like him.  He's such a gentleman.  That tattoo obviously means something to me.  I do not have a deep and meaningful connection to most of my tattoos.  I have some of them simply because they were a good shape to fill awkward gaps between existing ink.  I'm sure most people with multiple tattoos would tell you something similar.

At this point, I'd like to offer an apology.  I realize there is a contingent of people who've wound up here because they googled 'Newfoundland' and 'tattoo,' and saw a picture of a man in 18th century garb.  Naturally, they thought this was going to be an article about fife and drum... in Bonne Bay?  Maybe Belleoram? Obviously it isn't that.

But fear not.  


Signal Hill Tattoo


Watch this short clip of the drummers and historical re-enactment at the Signal Hill Tattoo.  The video was posted by Destination St. John's.

Newfoundland does have a great military tattoo experience -- it's on the east coast though.  Tattoo, in this sense, takes its name from the Dutch phrase tap toe. The Signal Hill Tattoo runs in July and August and is worth checking out.  It is a historical animation depicting military activity in Newfoundland dating back to the late 1700's -- just about the time when Cook was spreading the word of tattaws.

How about that? Some days it does seem like a very well-ordered universe.

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1. But if it were a joke, the punchline might be something like "They're beautiful, but getting there is a long and painful ride." Take that Bay D'Espoir Highway. 

2. I got the 1/3 figure from the interesting thesis on LGBTQ2S Tattooing in St. John's by Miranda Carlson-Strain (2019).

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