Almost every pacific island culture was familiar with tattooing but it is the Marquesas natives who were inhabitants of the group of islands found on the eastern part of Polynesia, who perfected it through their Marquesan tattoo design. Already, Alvaro de Mendana who was a Spanish seafarer and the first ever European to be the head of the islands in 1595 said when he came back that the tattooing patterns most of the time similar to the covering of a checkerboard could be seen on entire bodies.
During James Cook’s first visit to the islands together with his people in the 1800s, he first believed that the clothes of the natives would mainly be decorated with laces.
The tattoo presented a significant part in the culture of the people of Marquesas and had close connections to their political, social aesthetic and economical aspects. For the men, complete body tattoos showed strength, power as well as the ability to withstand pain. A tattoo also indicated the status of a person within the society. Generally, warriors and chieftains are the ones that wore the extensive tattoos. Any man who desired to have a tattoo had to go through a number of strict rituals of purification such as sexual abstinence, not getting near women and fasting. As regards to the women, the designs were mostly done to the legs, ears, lips and arms. Their tattoos were for social commitment.
A good Marquesan tattoo can be identified by its trademark symbols like the geckos or using other abstract “tribal” designs that have a similar look. It should however be remembered that this design does not have any affiliations nor should anyone lump it together with “tribal” styles as it is normally done with such kinds of designs. Marquesan designs set themselves apart by using such like symbols as well as consistent renderings of circles, arches and lines that are especially linked and attributed by history to South Pacific Islands in an artistic manner
Tradition of the Marquesan Tattoo
Boys got their very first tattoo when they were in the teenage hood and when undergoing a ritual and by the time they got to old age they had tattoos done on their entire bodies. Women had tattoos done on them as well but they it was not as extensively as the way they were done on men. The designs have a number of symbolic motifs, but none of them had been copied entirely as all tattoos belonging to different people were distinguished and showed the position they held in their family. The early tattoos that were brought back by the sailors were reintroduced to the west by the same sailors.
While there is still much tattooing on the Marquesan Islands, the images do not carry as much significance as they did before and are normally done using the tattoo machine instead of the conventional method. Tribal tattoos that were from this part in Polynesia are utterly and completely unique and therefore if it is your wish to have something unique you should consider taking their inspiration. Like other people from the Island, they normally cover their entire body but their Marquesan tattoo is also used for telling stories.