We Got Tattooed in Marquesas

Brian's Marquesan tattoo

Since arriving in The Marquesas nine months ago, Brian and I discussed getting the best possible souvenir here: a Marquesan tattoo. It took us a return trip to Nuku Hiva, plus the encouragement of our friends on Pelican, who beat us to it, but we did it! What it like to get tattooed in Marquesas?

Marquesan Tattoos

Tattoos are an important part of Polynesian culture, and Marquesans are known for their tattoo artistry. When we arrived on our first island in the archipelago, and every one after, we noticed the tattoos.

Tattoos in Marquesas
Tattooed perfomers in Ua Pou, Marquesas

I don’t know if it’s mandatory to have a tattoo here, but it is customary. Every adult has a tattoo somewhere, and some are covered with ink. Tattoos are tradition in French Polynesia. It’s part of the culture, marking milestones like adulthood and other important life moments.

Sleeve tattoo, Marquesas
Sleeve Tattoo at the Marquesan oven in Tahuata

We like Marquesan tattoos because while they look simple, most using only black ink, they are complex and symbolic.

arm tattoos, Marquesas
Dancers with tattoos in Ua Pou, Marquesas

Tattoos in Marquesas are personal, and tell the story of their bearer. This is so appealing to us observing and experiencing this ancient culture.


Marquesan tattoos represent a person’s character and life journey, and incorporate a raft of symbols. These aren’t tattoos of hearts and corporate logos, they are intricate and tribal.

Designing a Marquesan tattoo
Daniel designing Brian’s tattoo with a tattoo on his hand

Common Marquesan symbols in tattoos are for people, animals (like turtle and ray), ocean, and qualities like strength, wisdom, and protection.

Our Tattoos

Before coming to French Polynesia, Brian and I had no tattoos, and hadn’t seriously considered getting them. We changed our minds once we got to Marquesas. The clean and beautiful designs, and the meaning behind them, swayed us. We got tattooed in Marquesas because we like the cultural significance and symbolism. We will always remember our year in French Polynesia and time in The Marquesas and like having something to remind us of the Marquesan culture.

getting tattooed
Brian getting tattooed in Marquesas

Brian’s tattoo is on his right shoulder. The centerpiece is a guitar, since he likes to play. Framing the guitar are the symbols for mana (meaning life), shark teeth (strength), travel, and turtles (many sailors get turtle tattoos after crossing the Equator). It took about 90 minutes for his tattoo and he loves it.

Brian got tattooed in Marquesas
Brian after getting his Marquesan tattoo

My tattoo is a tiny one on my left thigh, mostly hidden by shorts. After seeing all the Marquesan tattoos, mine looks puny in comparison!

getting tattooed in Marquesas
Me getting my small tattoo

It’s a simple design of a sailboat, with waves (ocean) and the travel symbols. I endured 30 minutes of pinching and scratching sensations for this tattoo. It wasn’t as painful as I feared but it has been a week and it’s easy to forget.

Sailboat tattoo
My sailboat tattoo

Where To Get Tattooed in Marquesas

Since every adult in Marquesas, maybe even in French Polynesia, has a tattoo, there’s no shortage of tattoo artists. Several cruiser friends recommended Daniel in Nuku Hiva, and after meeting him and seeing his work, we chose him for our tattoos. Follow him on instagram to learn more.

Marquesan tattoo wall in Nuku Hiva
The wall at Daniel’s tattoo studio in Nuku Hiva

After getting our tattoos, we had to clean and moisturize them regularly. We also avoided swimming salt water for a week. We think the tattoos look great and we’re happy to always have these personal souvenirs of The Marquesas!

What do you think of these Marquesan tattoos? Have you ever gotten a tattoo as a souvenir? Share in the comments!

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, scuba diver, cat parent, cyclist, blogger, love the water and exploring new places.

12 thoughts on “We Got Tattooed in Marquesas”

  1. I must admit I have mixed feelings about being tattooed. I love some of the beautiful (smaller) tattoos. But I wonder how they look as we age and skin loses its elasticity. Would they be something we would regret later? But the Marquesan Tattoos look beautiful and would surely be a lasting reminder of your visit. How interesting that these tattoos are not just for art but represent a person’s character and life journey. Mine might be very big!

      1. Great! That’s good to know! I hadn’t planned on going there but the package I bought included it. I’m always up to see new places. I’m not looking forward to the 13 hour flight though 🙁

  2. Congratulations on having a tattoo that has significant to culture and memories. A small non intrusive tattoo (outside of the local community and culture), I feel is a sign of respect.

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