Is there a connection between Italians and Native Americans?
June 10, 2008 5:23 PM   Subscribe

While traveling in Italy, I happened to notice Native American tattoos on more than one youngish Italian man. Was this just a coincidence, or is there a preoccupation or admiration of Native American culture among Italians?

I saw two of these tattoos in my 5-day visit, and both of them were of Native American chiefs in traditional feathered war bonnets.
posted by Paul KC to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about Italy, but when I was in Germany, I learned there is some interest in Native Americans among a lot of Germans, especially the baby-boomers. Dunno if tattoos are part of it, though. It may be a Europe-wide phenomenon.
posted by zardoz at 5:48 PM on June 10, 2008

I'm a second-generation Italian-American, and I grew up in the Southwest. Whenever my Italian relatives come visit, ALL they want to do is buy Native American jewelry, go to Native American museums, visit Native American ruins, etc.

I've also hosted a couple of exchange students from Germany, who were similarly fascinated by Native American culture.

So, this is entirely anecdotal, but I think it might be a European thing more than an Italian thing.
posted by arianell at 5:58 PM on June 10, 2008

Native American imagery is also associated with motorcycle culture, so it's possible they're exposed to/interested in it through that.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:50 PM on June 10, 2008

Thirding the European fascination with Native Americans. I've met Germans who proclaimed themselves experts on the subject and a Spaniard who practically thought he was one.

I'd posit that the Europeans enjoy all of the "mystique" of Native Americans without feeling the (perhaps subconscious) guilt of living in the very country where they were murdered and raped by the millions.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 7:20 PM on June 10, 2008

Maybe because of Karl May and spaghetti westerns.
posted by tellurian at 7:28 PM on June 10, 2008

I actually saw a group of "Native Americans" in traditional garb doing dances with rainsticks near the waterfront in Venice, Italy. I thought this was extremely odd and have no idea if they were actual Native Americans or Italians trying to squeeze a few Euros out of the tourists.
posted by cnc at 7:32 PM on June 10, 2008

fascinating. seriously, who knew?
posted by allthingsbright at 8:02 PM on June 10, 2008

Any chance they were tattoos of the Indian Motorcycles logo?
posted by TheManChild2000 at 9:11 PM on June 10, 2008

Any chance they were tattoos of the Indian Motorcycles logo?

As per 'The World's Fastest Indian' film.
posted by ericb at 9:14 PM on June 10, 2008

Indian Motorcycle Tattoos.
posted by ericb at 9:21 PM on June 10, 2008

I've met many Italians (and Germans) who moved to Mexico because of their fascination with Native Americans. Anecdotal, yes. But there is a well documented European fascination with Native Americans.

I once visited a museum of NA culture in Rome. But that was an academic environment and we all know that academics aren't swayed by fads.
posted by Seamus at 9:22 PM on June 10, 2008

An English person here weighing in that there's a European fascination with Native Americans. As a European living in the US I'm always surprised that that fascination isn't shared by by US-ian's I meet. Growing up me and my peers were obsessed. You can see it in the music of the early 80's with Adam And The Ants, The Cult, and Bow Wow Wow
posted by merocet at 7:57 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fourthing European fascination with Native Americans. We'd see Native Americans performing outside and huge crowds would gather. It was the same experience as cnc, basically, except in Lyon instead of Venice.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:43 AM on June 11, 2008

This is the first I'd heard of an Italian interest in Native American culture, but my first thought is to remember that these are tattoos. Think what tattoos people in North American tend to get. Would you say that everyone with an Asian symbol stamped on them has a fascination or admiration for Asian culture? I'd think that, if Italian tattoos of Native Americans are popular, it's more to do with liking an image rather than a sign of a deeper cultural affinity. 'Course, I'm a cynic about tattoos anyway.
posted by roombythelake at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2008

Thanks for the answers everyone! Really fascinating stuff, even if it is anecdotal.
posted by Paul KC at 10:27 AM on June 11, 2008

Just came back from a week in Barcelona. Saw quite a few stores selling Native American jewelry, wooden statue carvings, and other items.
posted by junesix at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2008

Seconding tellurian. Karl May's books and the movie versions thereof are a big influence when growing up in (at least some) European countries.
posted by meijusa at 1:47 AM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a friend, born in the US of German parents who immigrated here after WWII, who pretty much thinks she's Cherokee. Tattoos, powwows, home decorated a la the shops in Cherokee NC, taking positions on tribal political and social issues, lots of cultural appropriation going on. The support is great, but the appropriation not so much.
posted by notashroom at 9:18 AM on June 12, 2008

Sorry for the slowpokin, I found out this post via the podcast :)

The fascination for native americans goes along way there, and it's been used by many different groups with completely different agendas.
I believe it goes back to the seventies, when the left (especially extraparliamentary groups) were fascinated by the new revisionist western. Choosing between john ford and sam peckinpah, at the time, was often a political statement.
Today there's really not much depth in this. Just like CheGuevaras on shirts, it is sort of a simbol to tell something, not necessarily followed by a real knowledge of the ideas or the characters in question.

There is another influence in this: IANAR (I'm not a raver) but I believe tribal tatoos came from the raver counterculture and then became mainstream. Most of the people I know with a tatoo have a tribal one (of this kind) I have no idea if those are original or inspired by a certain culture.

It's not just related to counterculture: recently, for example, native americans are popping on Lega Nord (a right wing political party) propaganda. They are using them as a symbol of a battle against a foreign invader (which is the way they see immigration and different cultures - yeah they are a bunch of racist assholes).

In the end, I believe dead revolutionaries and native americans there are the perfect icon for propaganda or fashion statement: basically you can make them whatever you want to fit your views because nobody is going to complain.
posted by darkripper at 4:52 PM on June 15, 2008

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