Tattoos are deeply rooted in Polynesian culture. Ancient Polynesians considered them to be a mystical form of art to be performed only by the great priests (Tahua). The symbols carved in the skin and flesh of our ancestors marked their rank, status and history. Their bodies told a story, their story, it was their identity.
This ancient art form is still very strong in French Polynesia although the rituals have disappeared and tattooists have now abandoned the bones, claws or bamboo for needles. Many Polynesians still proudly sport their tattoos, if not as a sign of their rank, as a symbol of pride in their culture, traditions and heritage. The ancients symbols have become very intricate works of art to embrace modernity but the essence remains identical.
Some may think the mana (power) has disappeared from the art of tattooing because it has become a worldwide trend and one no longer needs to be of polynesian ascendance to adorne their bodies with the once sacred symbols. To those, I will answer that our culture is one of sharing.
Some will say it has lost its signification as some of us chose to "modernize" the designs. To those I will answer that although my tattoos might not make sense to them, there is more to them that meets the eye, they have their own essence, they are unique and have a strong meaning to me, they tell a story, my story and they mark important moments of my life. The tradition and spirit remain, only in a different form.
I myself have 5 tattoos and I am yet to decide whether to get another, but if I do, I would like it to be a tribute to my family's protector: the shark...and a way to reclaim my identity.
If you would like to know more about tattoos in Tahiti, I suggest you view the free pamphlet on tattoos edited by Tahiti Tourism or buy Gian Paolo Barbieri's book Tahiti Tattoos for a selections of photographs he took during one of his travels to Tahiti with the help of my great friend Alberto V.
"When the designs are chosen with care, tattoos have a power and magic all their own. They decorate the body but they also enhance the soul." ~Michelle Delio