Teiki and Patutiki

Teiki, a man with traditional Marquesian tattoos on his arms, looks down at his work.

Teiki Huukena has dedicated himself to the Marquesan art of tattoo, called Patutiki.

He got his first tattoo, designed by his cousin, when he was 14 years old. Since then, his journey to reclaim the traditional symbols and their placement on the body has been written on his skin.


A tattoo artist sits behind his book of tattoo designs.
Photo by Eric Guth

The journey is also represented in this book, a catalogue of symbols and their meanings. It’s a work that Teiki drew on many sources to create, including anthropological texts from the early days of colonization when tattooing was banned in many places.


A tattoo artist points to the traditional tattoo on his client's shoulder while a child looks on.
Photo by Eric Guth

Teiki has a tattoo studio and works in a variety of styles. He sometimes tattoos tourists, like this Canadian, who come to the Marquesas for vacation. But his work also goes deep into the ancient traditions.

Teiki’s son spends a lot of time in the studio too. Sometimes he copies the symbols from his dad’s book, so he can learn them for himself.


An instrument used for traditional tattooing.
Photo by Eric Guth

Most of the time, Teiki uses modern tools to recreate ancient designs. As his work goes on, he hopes to have Marquesan tattoo recognized by UNESCO as part of our world heritage.


A child practices drawing traditional tattoos while a world cup plays on an iPhone screen next to his sketchbook.
Photo by Eric Guth

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