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Samoan Maori Tattoo by Vatsal Desai at Tattoo Art Goa India.

Samoan Maori Tattoo by Vatsal Desai at Tattoo Art Goa India.

Samoan Maori Tattoo by Vatsal Desai at Tattoo Art Goa India. Tattoo took more then 9 hours.

The Origins of Tattoo Art in Polynesia

Historically there was no writing in Polynesian culture so the Polynesian’s used tattoo art that was full of distinctive signs to express their identity and personality. Tattoos would indicate status in a hierarchical society as well as sexual maturity, genealogy and ones rank within the society. Nearly everyone in ancient Polynesian society was tattooed.

The Polynesian islands that were first first visited were the Marquesas Islands, which were found by European explorers and the Spanish navigator, Alvaro de Mendana de Neira, in 1595. However, the European navigators showed little interest due to the lack of valuable resources.

Captain James Cook (as mentioned in our comprehensive guide to Maori tattooing) was the first navigator trying to explore the aforementioned Polynesian triangle.

In 1771, when James Cook first returned to Tahiti and New Zealand from his first voyage, the word “tattoo” appeared in Europe. He narrated the behaviours of the Polynesian people in his voyage, which he called tattaw. He also brought a Tahitian named Ma’i to Europe and since then tattoo started to become rapidly famous, predominently because of the tattoos of Ma’i.

Another legend is that European sailors liked the Polynesian tattoos so much that they spread extremely fast in Europe because the sailors emblazoned the tattoos on their own bodies.

The actual tradition of Polynesian tattooing existed more than 2000 years ago, however in the 18th century the Old Testament strictly banned the operation. Since it’s renaissance in the 1980s, many lost arts were revived but it became very difficult to sterilise the wooden and bone tools that were used for the tattooing process so the Ministry of Health banned tattooing in French Polynesia in 1986.

The revival of the art and practice of tattooing, particularly in Tonga, in recent years is predominantly referred to as a result of the work of scholars, researchers, visual artists and tattoo artists.

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