Get a Tattoo in French Polynesia the Old-fashioned Way

by Edward Mack

Jun 21, 2015

© Frank Kovalchek | Flickr


If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, you need to read this. Even if you don’t have plans to get one, you might after learning about how incredibly awesome traditional Polynesian tattooing is.


The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tatua, or “to strike.” And that makes sense because traditional Tahitian tattooing involves striking a sharpened bone dipped in ink over and over again into your skin. Hence tattoo — think of how we use tattoo as a verb in English as well.


But consider this: First — obviously — you need to go to Polynesia. French Polynesia, Tahiti, is a good place to start. Soul Signatures in Honolulu also offers traditional tattooing. Either way, that’s an adventure in of itself right there. You’ll find a tattoo artist that will make the tools he will use out of bone or wood, which you will most likely get to keep afterwards. If you’re lucky, and find an artist willing, you can hunt a boar with the artist, have a pig roast and then use the boar’s bones to make the tools that will be used to tattoo you. Yeah.


Then you will work together to design the tattoo. Finally, the artist will tap it into your skin. And when someone asks you the story behind your tattoo, you will have something astounding to tell them. Like seriously, nobody is going to have a more hardcore story than that.


But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The tattoo is an extremely sensitive cultural treasure in Polynesia, one with a history and significance that runs deeper than most non-Polynesians could comprehend. That doesn’t mean you won’t be welcomed; just be sensitive to the culture. Also, getting a tattoo the traditional way with bone will likely cost at least double what it would to get a normal tattoo.


But if you’re in for a lifetime’s worth of stories anyway, why not make them jaw dropping?


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