Tattoo History 2: Micronesian Tattooing

Micronesian tattoos date back as far as 2000 BCE. Clothing and jewelry acted as a secondary body adornment to tattoos. Tattoos were an extremely important part of growing up on the islands. For men it signified manhood, and attracting women, showing how much pain he can endure. For women it was a sign of beauty.

micronesiann-tattoo
Man and woman tattooed.

Tattoos were sanctioned by the gods; they would be called upon the night before to see if the tattoo should be undertaken. A tattooer’s inspiration was seen as a gift from the gods, and the initial drawing of a preliminary design would be done in complete silence.

micronesian-woman-tattoo
Tattooed woman.

Tattooing began with the chiefs and their wives before moving onto the common people. The chiefs would have large tattoos, including on their faces to hide wrinkles. The size and design of the tattoos depended on offerings made to the gods and payments made to the tattoo artist in food and mats. Tattoos on men would be placed on their chest, back, arms, shoulders, thighs, neck, face, and genitals, depending on the wearer’s status. For women, tattoo’s would be placed on shoulders, arms, and hands.

micronesian-tattooed-man
Tattooed man.

Tattoos now can be very painful, but back then they were extremely painful. The tattoo was done by hand and took a very long time to complete. The tattoo itself would be made with chisels made of bird or fish bones. They would then be dipped in dye made of burned coconut sheathes mixed with water.  A chest or back tattoo would take approximately one month to complete. The skin would swell and medicine made from coconut juice and healing leaves would be placed on the open wounds. When the line work was completed songs with clapping and drumming would be played to help the wearer overcome the pain.

Information taken from Oxford History of Art : Pacific Arts of Polynesia and Micronesia, and larskrutak.com

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