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People & Places

Grace Liao, editor

Traditional tattoo: A Polynesian way to own your own identity

Tattoo—Depending on the listener’s age, experience, and, yes, culture, the word can stir up a variety of emotions. Young people today tend to be excited by tattoos and are usually positive about getting them. Older people tend to be negative about them and appalled at the foolishness of youth. [More]


Aisea

Photo by Grace Liao

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A history of “Tribal style”

by Grace Liao, Arts & Entertainment editor

“Tribal style” tattooing can refer to any of a number of established styles for permanently marking the body. Most commonly, all these styles are primarily monochrome, being black and skin tone in nature. A lot of the inspiration for modern tribal tattooing can be found in the traditional designs of Pacific Rim and Southeast Asian cultures. Ritual tattooing was found throughout island cultures, most of them created with elaborate hand techniques producing designs of surprising complexity and graphic boldness.

As there is no writing in the Polynesian culture, the Polynesians used this art, full of distinctive signs, to express their identity and personality. Tattoos would indicate status in a hierarchy society: sexual maturity, genealogy, and social rank. Nearly everyone in ancient Polynesian society was tattooed.
Tattooing was begun at adolescence. Teenagers (around 12 years) were tattooed to mark the passage between childhood and adulthood. Different tattoos were added with the passing of years. The more a man was tattooed, the more prestige he had.

Tattooing was not only a sign of wealth, but also a sign of strength and power. Therefore chiefs and warriors generally had the most elaborate tattoos. Men without any tattoo were despised, whereas those whose bodies were completely tattooed (the to‘oata) were greatly admired.

Girls’ right hands were tattooed by the age of twelve. Only after tattooing were they allowed to prepare the meals and to participate in the rubbing of dead bodies with coconut oil.

The tattoos of women were less extensive than the tattoos seen on men; generally they were limited to the hand, arms, feet, ears and lips. Women of rank or wealth might also have their legs tattooed.

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