THE HISTORY OF TATTOO IS HARD TO RECOUNT EVENTHOUGH IT’S AN ANCESTRAL PRACTICE WE CAN’T PLACE IT’S ORIGIN.
Tattoo would often show that someone was of a high social rank. It was symbolic linked to the sacred and supernatural, the acceptation of an individual by a community (growing from childhood to adulthood for exemple). It could be reserved to the hereos, particuraly couragous warriors. Tattoo was always positive for the person how had the privilege to receive it. The person who was covered with it was identified easyly thanx to this forme of body adornment. So the entire body could be almost covered. The patterns used in a symbolic way were referencies to natural elements (sun, moon, plants, animals etc) or could be simple geometrical figures; it could also evokes the social life: battles, weapons of war, human sacrifice. According to the tradition men were largely tattooed whereas women prefered localised tattoos on the fleshy parts of their bodies. Traditionally tattoo was reserved to the upper classes. It was linked to the desire to reinforce the power of fertility, the links with supernatural powers amd above all it had a sacred nature. Men and women would wear tattoo on differents parts of their bodies, the social differencies were underlined by symbols corresponding to each social class. It was done under the control of the chiefs: when an intiated person was given new advantages he could add new tattoos to the old ones. Women were less tattooed but the designs were more elegant and better done as they considered as a finery. Only the face was respected excepted for some warriors or priests that would have a particular symbole on the forehead or the lips.
For the inahbitant of the marquesas islands the tattoo would cover entirely body and face. Women were tattooed on the hips and bottom with some patterns on their hands and hankles. On the island of the “sociÈtÈ” patternes were limited to the lower part of the body and for women to wrists and legs. Chiefs could have a lot of tattoos and they could talk about a batlle or some important event. There are several types of tattoos. Those for the gods, priests, chiefs that were heriditary tattoos reserved to their descendants. The tattoos of Hui A ri’i type, and Arioi’i reserved to chiefs (men and women), tattoos of Hui to’a, hui ra’atira and to’ai types reserved to chiefs of war, warriors, dancers etc…and the manahune type for the persones without genealogy.
Tattoo disapeared quicly with the arrival of the missionaries. We owe the few images of tattooed persones to the english painter sydney parkinson and the german von den steiner. Nowadays there’s a renewal of tattoo in the polynesian society. The operation was very painfull but bearable. The tattooing ceremony was a real ritual with drums, flutes and toere music preavailed. The priest-tattooists had a great prestige in the society. The colouring were vegetal made from burned fruits mixed to water. He used two tools: a bodkin or a kind of comb and piece of wood. This bodkin consisted in a piece of wood on which were sticked birds bones, fishs, sharks, pigs or even human sharped teeth. To make this first instrument go into the skin the priest would use a second tool a piece of wood a sorte of hammer. The colouring which was very black came froma nut the “bancoule tiari” bruned and pulverised. Then the powder was mixed to water or monoi, the colouring once injected under the skin took the bleuish color perfectly indelible. To cicatrise they used a plant called ahi tutu. The choice of the patterns was realy important. H e would draw the design of the bodi with coal and then he would incise the skin with his tool and then would put the colouring. The priest-tattooist was considered as the privileged bearer of a great science that had to be transmited to the future generations.