Legacy of Historic Marquesan Tattoo in the West

By Tattoo Artist On September 10, 2010 Under Ancient Tattoos, Cultural Tattoos

A cool Marquecan tattoo on man's arm.When Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra, the first European who landed on the shore of Maequesas in the eastern islands of Polynesia in 1595, he already saw the tattooing patterns of marquesan tattoo which looks similar to a checkerboard that covers the whole body of a native Marquesan.  Then, James Cook travelled to the islands in the 18th century with his crew, and thought that the natives would wear clothes decorated with laces.

He was surprised to see that the natives were covered with tattoos in almost entire part of their bodies.  Tattooing was called tatauing then, and tattoo was termed tatau in marquesan language.  For purposes of becoming more acclimatized with their language, we’ll be using their words used in body art in this article.

During those times, different cultures in the pacific island were already practicing tatauing, but the perfect forms of tataus were crafted by the Marquesan natives.  The marquesan tattoo played a major role in the culture of Marquesas, and their tattoos were typically associated with aesthetic, political, social and economic aspects of their life.

A large Marquesan tattoo on man's left arm.In case of men, tataus embedded on their entire body were symbol of strength and power, as well as their ability to endure pain.  Tataus were also considered status symbols for the natives in the community.  Their positions and ranks in their community are shown through the kinds of tataus they wear.  The warriors and chieftains sported the largest and most extensive tataus on their bodies.

Before men were allowed to have tataus, they had to pass several purification rituals that were strictly implemented such as fasting and abstinence from sex without a bit of contact with women at all.  On the other hand, the marquesan tattoo patterns were mostly printed on their ears, legs, arms and lips of women as signs of social commitment.  These tattoos used trademark symbols like geckos or other related abstract tribal tat designs.

However, marquesan designs were exclusive for Marquesan tribe and not affiliated in any way with other tribal patterns.  In order to be unique in their own created designs, the Marquesans used similar symbols and artistic designs made-up of lines, circles and arches which are unique components of the history and culture of the South Pacific Islands.  Boys were given their first tataus upon reaching the age of teens in a setting of rituals, and when they become older, they had to bear marquesan tattoos in their entire bodies as a form of tradition.

The traditional Marquesan tattoo on arm.

Women had also tataus mostly on their faces, but not as extensive as the men.  Many symbolic motifs were associated with the designs, but they were not copied totally from the original.  Every tattoo was different signifying individual position in the family circle.  The crews and other explorers on board the vessels of Captain James Cook from the West brought with them the Marquesan style of tattooing, and they were greatly influenced by the designs of the natives in these islands.

The early tattoos embedded on the bodies of the sailors and explorers started the reintroduction of marquesan tattooing in the West.

Two Marquesan tattoos on calf


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