Book: Religion and Touch
Chapter: 1. Tattooing Ritual and the Management of Touch in Polynesia
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.