By Yvonne Blackwood~

The tanned, smooth clear skin of the Polynesian men contributes to their exoticism, but the skin is not left unadorned. Every man I came across had numerous tattoos.  I delved into the matter to find out what tattooing is all about in this region.

Tattooing is not a fad in the South Pacific Islands, it is a part of the culture. The origin of the English word ‘tattoo’ is derived from the Tahitian word ‘tatau’. In Tahiti in ancient times, tattoos symbolized a person’s position in society; it indicated a sign of strength and wealth. It goes without saying that chiefs and warriors usually had the most elaborate ones.

Exotic, Polynesian
Native man in Moorea wearing loincloth

Men are not the only ones with tattoos, women have them also. In Samoa I had the opportunity to speak to the teenage daughter of a chief, and she sheepishly lifted her long skirt to show me her right leg. A series of tiny uniformed emblems were tattooed there covering an eight-inch square area just above her knees. “My father had these tattoos done on me. I didn’t have any say,” she told me. Tattoos on women indicate the maturity of girls’ sexuality or puberty.

In my previous articles in this series   part 1Part 2Part 3 , & part 4, I mentioned the pareu—a wraparound rectangular cloth worn by both Polynesian men and women. There is another type of garment—the loincloth—worn by some of the men, and it had us ladies gawking. When the loincloth is worn, it allows you the full view of how extensive tattoos can be, and a better appreciation of a tattooed body.

Moorea, exotic

A playful native of Moorea in tattooed splendour!


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