Marquesan Tattoos

Marquesan warrior
Marquesan warrior

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.

Note the tiki face with the downturned mouth.
Note the tiki face with the downturned mouth. Drawn by Trent.

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.

Marquesan men-in-arms by Trent.
Marquesan men arm-in-arm drawn by Trent

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.

Turtle with Marquesan cross designed by Trent
Turtle with Marquesan cross drawn by Trent

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.

Good friend Stephan Chevalier inspired by Marquesans.
Good friend Stephan Chevalier inspired by Marquesans.

Trent Rigney


7 thoughts on “Marquesan Tattoos”

  1. I agree that the Marquesean tattoos are the best in design. I like the geometric designs that go around upper arms that look like cuffs. Nice job with your art And article, Trent.

  2. Tattoos, hmmm? Some are cool some are not. Yes, they tell of an experience or “who you are”, but we are all changing on a daily basis. Who you are now will be different than who you will be in 20 years. Looks like there are some cool tattoos in the islands. Fun information about tattoos, thanks for sharing. Nice drawings too.

  3. If I tattooed the silly nickname from my youth , I’d still be unhappily sporting “Cin the Cobra Trainer” (an inside joke at the time) somewhere on my body and Rick would be sporting “Pood” as in finicky as a poodle. Ideas for what’s attractive or cool at the time sure can change.

  4. Very good overview of the tattoos. Thank you for sharing. I could never get a tattoo for 2 reasons: 1 – I could never endure the pain of the needle, 2 – other than my faith, I can’t commit to anything for life. 🙂

  5. Hi Eric:
    I am Joanne and Charles Bruchez’ brother Bobby.
    I am in Moorea presently with my wife Pamela.
    We are in Cooks Bay until 6 Sept. 2016 returning to Papeete and back to Los Angeles and home to Florida.
    Hoping you are near and we can hook up.
    Wishing you and your family continued happiness and the safest or journeys!
    Bobby and Pamela Pickwood

    1. Sorry, Bobby. Got this late. We were in Raiatea, closer to Bora Bora at the time of your visit. Sure you had a great time on Moorea.


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