Art of the Day

5 Apr

Teve Tupuhia. Tattooed in 1980 by Samoan Lese li’o.

Notes from Stokstad and Cothren’s  Art History, 4th Edition:

The art of tattoo was widespread and ancient in Oceania. Tattoo chisels made of bone have been found in Lapita sites. They are quite similar to the tools used to create the decorated Lapita pottery, suggesting some symbolic connection between the marking of the pottery and of human skin. The Polynesians, descendants of the Lapita people, brought tattooing with them as they migrated throughout the Pacific. As they became isolated from each other over time, distinctive styles evolved: Spirals became a hallmark of the Maori facial tattoo (moko), and rows of triangles became prominent in Hawaiian designs.

The people of the Marquesas Islands, an archipelago about 900 miles northeast of Tahiti, were the most extensively tattooed of all Polynesians. The process of tattooing involves shedding blood, the most sacred substance in Polynesia. In the Marquesas, the process for a young man of high social rank began around age 18; by age 30 he would be fully tattooed. Because of the sacredness and prestige of the process, some men continued to be tattooed until their skin was completely covered and the designs disappeared. Marquesan women were also tattooed, usually on the hands, ankles, lips, and behind the ears.

The process was painful and expenseive. Though women could be tattooed with little ceremony in their own homes., in the case of both high-ranking men and women, special houses were built for the occasion. The master tattooer and his assistants had to be fed and paid. At the end of the session a special feast was held to display the new tattoos. Each design had a name and meaning. Tattooin was done to mark passages in people’s lives and their social positions, and to commemorate special events or accomplishments. Some tattoos denoted particular men’s societies or eating groups. Especially for men, tattoos showed their courage and were essential to their sexual attractiveness to women.

Tattooing was forbidden in the nineteenth century by French colonial administrators and Catholic missionaries, and died out in the Marquesas. Beginning in the 1970’s, tattooing underwent a resurgence throughout the Pacific.

My comments:

Why do Western cultures frown upon tattoos so much? Why are they associated with untrustworthy, incapable people? Why is it not acceptable to work in a prestigious business setting with tattoos? Is it simply for the distraction?

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One Response to “Art of the Day”

  1. tara April 5, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    In the Jewish religion, you must leave the world the way you came in and tatoos change the body.
    In our family, you aren’t going to get a tatoo. period.

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