Polynesian symbolism, tattoos from the southsea and native marquesian culture

 polynesian tattoo, tattoo designs, meanings and their origin



Tuhuna  |  Reasons  |  Tools  |  Significance  


Art of tattoo


Causes for the special tattooed ornaments of the Marquesians and the other Polynesian tribes have been researched in many ways, since they have to be special reasons to let the tradition develop this way.

Dolour/Vendetta  Magical protection  Sexual maturity  Replacement for clothing



Tattoos, made because of dolour, could be proved with a lot of cases. Besides painful tattoos there are some other rituals depending on the region. An example could be scoring of the skin and even to the point of chopping off phalanxes. Main focus of these rituals is not to bear the terrible pain but to donate blood as a sacrifice. This sacrifice of blood symbolizes human sacrifices and should appease the gods.
On the Marquesians there are even evidences for a special dolour tattoo pattern. After chief Komoť has died a stylised skullface is tattooed as a memory of the chief.

Tattoos because of vendetta are closely related to dolourtattoos. They are a kind of enhancement of the dolourtattoos. They are supposed to be a sacred duty for the relatives and offspring of the murdered. The memorial tattoo turns to a urgend warning, which hopes that the murderer will meet his terrible fate. Besides the tattoo there are some other rituals to handle vendetty too. For example shaving oneís head.

Magical protection


Tattoos as protective instruments are strongly connected to the sacrifice of blood. But here it is the other way round: Main focus of these rituals is to bear the terrible pain and to spill blood. Blood in this case has protective effects against disease, death, defeat and destitution and leads to health, victory and blessing.
The protection is closely related to the tattooed bodyparts: Lips are tattooed to avoid toothache and hunger, the region around the eyes has its tattoos to keep the acuteness of vision, tattooing joints protects from rheumatism and finaly a tattooed chest is protected from bullets and lances. So the magical effects of these tattoos are not therapeutic. They are used as a kind of prophylaxis.
Thatís the reason why formally only chiefs and their sons had got the privilege to get a tattoo. They needed the magical protection in their position as warlord or warriors.

Sexual maturity


Ornaments of adolescence are popular in the Polynesian area, too. There is a nice story from Tahiti: A young native girl visits British seaman on their ship and, to their surprise, she raises her skirt salutatory to show her maturity. The reason is the fact that native girls would said to be dishonourable if they were premature.
Girls show their maturity with a tattoo looking like curved stripes on their loins called Toto Huwa. The boys get the same tattoo but in this case itís called Awari. By the way this Awari was the special tattoo the two divine brothers invented to seduce her sister.
The meaning of the tattoo is simply explained: Toto means blood and Huwa is fruit, egg or seed so Toto Huwa means menstrual-blood, which contains (in the Polynesian imagination) human germs. Awari could be translated with removal of the Rahu. Rahu is a spiritual ban from the seed to the harvest, which in this context also applies to the Ďhumanplantí. In other words this tattoo was a permission for reproduction.

Replacement for clothing


Finally there is another opinion: Tattoos might be a kind of alternative for clothing. At first I have to say that this is definitely not true.
This idea goes back to early seaman, who thought the natives wear black silkshorts, when they saw them for the first time. This is false but since then you can read ideas like that from time to time in literature.
Moreover some people think that these tattoos reduce the sense of shame, because the appearance of nudity vanishes. Itís true that natives feel ashamed when they are untattooed. Not because they feel naked, but they could be seen as cowards or slaves. Incidentally itís enough to tie up the foreskin with a small string so that the glans is covered to make men feel not ashamed.















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Polynesian tatou, lots of examples and explanations