Teiki Pao gathers coconut from the hills of Nuku Hiva. Dried coconut, called copra, is sold to make coconut oil, and it is an important industry here. Teiki works with his horse, Légende, and when I asked Teiki about his tattoos, he told me some of them represent the horse that he spends so much time with (above). Others represent him and his family (below).
Tattoos are everywhere in French Polynesia, from the people who work in the hills to those who perform on a national stage.
The Heiva is an enormous cultural festival held each year, with participants from many parts of French Polynesia. The centre of the action is downtown Pape’ete on the island of Tahiti, where the biggest stage fills every night with large dance and music groups. Some tattoos, like the one here, are in a more modern style.
Tattoos on the hands of Kimi Teikiteetini on the island of Nuku Hiva.
On the island of Tahuata and in the village of Hapatoni, Heipua Timau has tattoos in the Marquesan style. The year after this photo was taken, she joined the military and moved to France, a popular option for young adults in this region.
This drawing shows a Marquesan man adorned with tattoos in a traditional style. Young tattoo artists are now researching the placement and meaning of these symbols and building a resurgence of tattoo culture. Patutiki, this ancient practice, is one of many cultural elements that was prohibited during the process of colonization.
Teiki Huukena is one of the Marquesas’ renowned tattoo artists. Here, he holds an example of the tools used in traditional tattooing. They are rarely used these days, though many other aspects of the traditional practices are regaining popularity.