Thursday, February 13, 2014
Tattoos have been popular all over Polynesia for ages, but in the Marquesas it was at its most refined. Men were, unlike on other islands, often tattooed entirely, including the skull, which was kept shaved, or on more sensitive parts such as the eyelids or tongue. Even now, we frequently meet a local guy ashore in Taiohae (Nuku Hiva), who has his head covered with tattoos. The most frequently chosen body parts were the earlobes and the space behind the ears, the lower back, legs and arms. Something we still notice around us. There are more than 400 diverse and ancient designs and the main source of inspiration is the tiki, representing both divinity and the original human. In the Marquesan language tattooing is patu’I te tiki, literally “hitting the tiki”.
The mythological meaning of tattoo is one of astatic value and sexual attractiveness, but it is not the only one. Beyond the decorative aspect, tattooing spoke of the passage from childhood to adulthood. In the Marquesas Islands it was also a mark of identification, of belonging to a group and a protective barrier against evil influences. Now, Marquesans – after being banned of living according to their culture for a long time thanks to the missionaries (until 1975!) – get a tattoo to be handsome, to help the rebirth of an old custom and to prove their courage.
Marquesan tattoos are intricate, beautiful and unique. Not two are the same and each one has a personal preference and story. It is safe to say that almost every adult in the islands has at least one tattoo and the craft is performed well. Many tattooist are often off island, working in Tahiti, on other islands or in Europe, and are well-regarded internationally. Because of its Marquesan roots, their originality and their appeal, many cruisers also get a tattoo while visiting the islands.