The Appropriation of Scotland’s Indigenous People

In recent weeks I’ve seen a surge in popularity among the diaspora claiming to be Picts. We need to talk about why this is incorrect, offensive and problematic. First off, who were the Picts? The Picts were the indigenous people of Scotland, they lived up and down this country until around 800 C.E. where they […]

Jul 12, 2023

In recent weeks I’ve seen a surge in popularity among the diaspora claiming to be Picts. We need to talk about why this is incorrect, offensive and problematic.


First off, who were the Picts?

The Picts were the indigenous people of Scotland, they lived up and down this country until around 800 C.E. where they merged with the Celts under one banner. This new Kingdom was known as Alba and the Picts ceased to exist. 

The people of Scotland, c. 600 C.E.

Sadly, we have very little archaeological evidence left of the Picts which has made it almost impossible to reconstruct their daily lives, beliefs and culture. Most of the primary evidence we have, can be attributed to the Roman historians. This is an incredibly biased source as the Picts and Romans were stuck in a chronic war for hundreds of years. Often when documenting their enemies, the Romans used terms like “barbarian” which demonstrates these sources are rooted in a pro-legion narrative to bolster the war efforts and dehumanise the enemy.

Other fragments of primary evidence can be found in the form of ancient stone carvings. Many of our carvings are starting to wither (they’re almost 2,000 years old!!) but they showcase beautiful, mysterious beasts and elaborate swirls. Ultimately, we’re unsure of why they were carved, or what the symbology on them means. One can only speculate the purposes of these ancient stones and what they once meant to the people of Pictland.

Fundamentally, most of what we know about the Picts is rooted in theory. However, there are archaeologists still searching for additional evidence. A few weeks ago, another dig began at a place which was theorised to be settled by Druids. I could see the ongoing site from my window which made me excited that the hunt for evidence about the Picts has not been abandoned.

The search for evidence about their daily lives continues…

So who does have Pictish ancestry and what’s the problem?

There is no test that will tell you that you have Pictish DNA and not all people in Scotland are related to the Picts. In a recent study was done in April 2023 (Morez A, Britton K, Noble G, Günther T, Götherström A, Rodríguez-Varela, et al. 2023), a sample of DNA was taken from 1,000 Scottish people and the results revealed that only 10% of people who live in Scotland are potentially related to the Picts. Those 10% were not confined to one area, town or village.

Let’s look at some claims that I’ve found in comments online to highlight the problem that I’m addressing..

“I do claim to be a Pict” / “I’m Pictish” / “I have Pictish ancestry”

These are comments that have been left all over the internet, in particular, TikTok. One outstanding example can be found on an archaeologist’s page, where he rightly addressed that there was no such thing as a DNA test for Pictish ancestry. Outraged commenters ignored these facts, continued to argue with him and claimed they were Pictish (i.e. an indigenous person of Scotland who lived over 1,000 years ago). 

“I am a descendant of the Picts and in the process of getting covered in tattoos.”

Having tattoos does not make one a Pict. While it is theorised that they were covered in blue tattoos and the Latin word Pict comes from “Picti” which means “painted people“, this evidence was written by a Roman historian. As we’ve already explored the Romans were biased when writing about the Picts and their primary evidence should be taken with a pinch of salt. Thousands of cultures around the world partake in tattooing, having Scottish ancestry and being tattooed does not make one a Pict.

“Best DNA test for Scottish ethnicity?”

Quoted from a website that claims to help people choose which ancestry DNA test to choose. There is no such thing as Scottish ethnicity or Scottish blood and a website that states there is, usually wants your money. Essentially you would be “buying a piece of being Scottish”. 

What these websites do not realise is that being Scottish is a living culture and anyone who moves or lives here and contributes to that culture is Scottish. For example, my friend Ahmed’s parents moved here from Pakistan in the 80’s. He speaks with a Scottish accent, wears a kilt on special occasions, drinks Irn-Bru and is every bit as Scottish as I am. Ethnically I am Caucasian, ethnically he is Punjabi – but culturally and linguistically, we are both equal parts Scottish. Arguably, he is more Scottish than diaspora who have never stepped foot in Scotland; a shared belief of people in Scotland that tends to hurt some feelings.

“I have genetic markings that distinguish me as Pictish.”

There is no test to tell that you are a descendant of the Picts, and almost all of these ancestry DNA tests are corporations based in America. They do not have access to the Pictish DNA which is held in Scottish Universities. Thus, no ancestry test will tell you if you have “Pictish genetic markers” . The same goes for “Pictish blood” and “Pictish DNA”. Moreover, this is touching on a blood purity issue that is rooted in supremacy.  Scottish and Pictish are not interchangeable terms. A DNA test may tell you that you have genetic similarities to people who live in certain areas of present day Scotland, however that does not make you a Pict. As we explored earlier, not all Scottish people have Pictish ancestry.

Where does falsely claiming heritage (which appropriates indigenous people) come from? 

To my understanding, this has arisen for a few reasons: 

  1. Some people are confused about the Picts and believe the term is synonymous with the term Scottish. As shown above, not everyone in Scotland has Pictish DNA. 
  2. People want to claim something that is cool. The enigma of the Picts leaves a lot to be desired and it also gives people liberty to use their imagination and create (and sell) falsities. 
  3. Diaspora want to belong somewhere. As a native person, I cannot begin to understand how this feels nor would I insult or invalidate their feelings by pretending I do. However, I do implore the diaspora to listen to people who live there and the facts. If they say you’re not Pictish and it’s offensive to say so, listen to them. 
  4. Popular Culture. This one speaks for itself, with pop culture comes a surge in interest in the historical people, and thus, people claiming they are descended from them. Senua’s Sacrifice is a video game that has surged the interest in Pictavia, there are Picts in the Disney movie Brave, and I guarantee there will be more TV shows made about the Picts in future. The lack of historical evidence gives us room of creative liberty. However, with this also comes offence, capitalism and appropriation. Look at Outlander for example, the term Sassenach was used as a term of endearment in the show and now it’s lovingly thrown around by fans. In reality, this word in Scotland is incredibly offensive and a slur used to hatefully describe the English or lowland Scots. Sadly, I’ve even had tourists throw this word at friends of mine while visiting our lands, while having no respect for the gravity and offensive meaning behind it. As another example, barmen in Inverness had to stop wearing kilts to work because they were sexually assaulted every day by women trying to lift their kilts to see what was underneath. Unacceptable behaviour by any standard. 
  5. Popularity on the Internet. Some fantastic creators are speaking about our history, stories and culture. With that comes a surge in popularity, romanticisation and as shown in the “popular culture” examples, this can be harmful to native people.

In summary, please help us put an end to people claiming they’re Pictish or have “Pictish ancestry” through education. Anyone who claims this is participating in a gross appropriation of our indigenous people which is peddled by a supremacist “blood purity” trope. Listen to native people who are saying that this is unacceptable and listen to the facts. Ignoring our wishes is disrespectful and harmful to our lived cultures.

Additionally and most importantly, anyone who comes to Scotland and lives here can be Scottish. We have a living, breathing culture that is formed by hundreds of different subcultures. 

Scottish culture is Irn-Bru, it’s laughing on Burns night, it’s ceilidhs and moaning about the dreich weather. It’s sitting around a fire telling stories in the warmth of summer with friends, it’s a trip down to the chippy on a cold, dark November night. Scottish culture is Buckie at T in the Park, it’s “ya cannae shove yer granny aff a bus”, “jeely pieces” and singing “500 miles” at the top of your lungs. 

Scottish culture is not a DNA test. 

You are Scottish if you live here, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, colour, sex or religion.

Sincerely, 

Someone who lives in Modern-Day Pictland

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1 Comment

  1. Nancy Hetrick

    Thank you. My Grandmother was a Knox & i love culture & my family history. It all makes me who i am.i appreciate learning more about where my ancestors came from. My grandfather was a flanagin & my mothers parents came from norway.

    Reply

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