James Samuela's Moorea Tattoo - The Art of Polynesian Tattooing

James Samuela's Moorea Tattoo - The Art of Polynesian Tattooing

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The History of Polynesian Tattoo in Tahiti

A Marquesan chiefThe origin of the English word 'tattoo' actually comes from the Tahitian word 'tatau' and goes back as far as 1500 BC. In ancient Polynesian society, nearly everyone was tattooed. It was an integral part of ancient Tahitian culture and was much more than a body ornament. Tattooing indicated ones genealogy and/or rank in society. It was a sign of wealth, of strength and of the ability to endure pain. As such, chiefs and warriors generally had the most elaborate tattoos. Tattooing was generally begun at adolescence, and would often not be completed for a number of years. Tattooing was not limited to men. Tahitian women were also tattooed – it was an indication of a girl’s sexual maturity.

With the arrival of Europeans, came a dramatic change to both tattooing and the culture in general. Captain Cook and others returned from the Pacific with tales of exotic islands, of "savage" cultures indulging in erotic dance and bizarre rituals. One of these rituals was tattooing. It wasn’t until the arrival of the missionaries that this art form was nearly killed. Considered to be a sinful glorification of the skin, the missionaries strictly forbid tattoo. Fortunately the art of tattooing was well documented and it is only in recent years (since 1981) that tattooing has enjoyed a renaissance. Today, Tahitian tattoo has again gained recognition as a highly respected art form and is sought by travelers the world over.

Traditional Tahitian Tattoo

Traditional Tahitian tattoo is the tattoo practice originally invented by my ancestors. The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tautau. Tautau was the sound made by tattooing -- tat tat. Traditional tattoo involves the creation of traditional tattooing tools called tatatau. The tools consist of a comb with anywhere from 3-20 needles and are carved from bone, shell or shark’s teeth. These “needles” are placed on the skin and the handle is tapped with a second wooden stick, causing the skin to puncture thus inserting the pigment. This procedure is obviously much more labor intensive... (continued)

James Samuela tattooing in the traditional method of Polynesian tattoo
Photo by Macduff Everton

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Tahitian Tatoo Artist
Specializing in Traditional Tattoo - PK 32 cote montagne, haapiti-varari, moorea tel: +689.76.42.60 (cell) or +689.56.25.33
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