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?
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.
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.
We like Marquesan tattoos because while they look simple, most using only black ink, they are complex and symbolic.
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.
Common Marquesan symbols in tattoos are for people, animals (like turtle and ray), ocean, and qualities like strength, wisdom, and protection.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!