Since I arrived in the Marquesas, I’ve seen a lot of tattoos. Almost everyone here has them, even kids my age. Marquesan tattooing is much more beautiful than US tattooing because the designs are not something aggressive like putting a dragon on yourself. They are beautiful, abstract or geometric designs that always look a little different in someone else’s eyes. I learned how to draw some of their popular designs in art class at school, like the tiki and the Marquesan southern cross.
I learned that tiki representations are used as protectors or defensive designs to guard or shield the wearer. According to renowned tattoo artist, Simeon Huuti, in the book, The Roots and Revival of Polynesian Tattoos, “In my tattoos, I always have a tiki image. The Tiki is like an emblem for the Marquesas and will always protect an aspect of our islands. Some believe they are evil…I believe that if we respect them, they will respect us.” The Marquesan symbol of the southern cross constellation is featured everywhere too. I have seen the Marquesan cross above the entrance of churches, in drawings, in stone and bone carvings, and as tattoos. When you draw several Marquesan crosses next to each other, you can often see a design of little Marquesan men arm-in-arm.
In 1819 the first Marquesan chief to embrace Catholicism forbid people to make and wear any more tattoos. It wasn’t until the 1980s that tattoos came back to French Polynesia. With the ancients, tattoos were a symbol of power. They were designed to show a person’s importance and to tell a person’s life story. Today, most Marquesan tattoos include symbols of who you are. And your tattoo is with you for the rest of your life.
One day I was playing basketball with Bryce and a person showed up and wanted to play with us. He had a very cool looking tattoo; it made me want to get the same tattoo, but I knew I wasn’t old enough to know what I would want when I’m older. I think I’m going to come back some day when I’m grown and get a tattoo just like the one that person had.