Marquesan tattoo

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Drawing of a tattooed man from the Marquesas Islands, 1846. Atlas pittoresque pl 058.jpg
Drawing of a tattooed man from the Marquesas Islands, 1846.

A Marquesan tattoo is a tattoo design originating from the Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific. Marquesan tattoos can be recognized by 'trademark symbols', such as geckos, centipedes, Ti'i's, the Marquesan Cross (which is also commonly confused with other designs) and other geometric designs. Marquesan designs distinguish themselves through the use of symbols and consistent artistic renderings of lines, arches and circles, which are uniquely attributed and linked through history to the South Pacific Islands. [1] Marquesan Tattoos are a part of the Polynesian Tattoo art. [2] The Marquesan Cross is often incorporated into larger Polynesian Tattoo Designs as it symbolises the balance between the elements and harmony. [3]



Boys received their first tattoos in their teens in a ritual setting, and by old age often had tattoos all over their bodies. Women were also tattooed, but not as extensively as men. The designs share many symbolic motifs, but were never copied entirely; every individual's tattoos were different and signified heritage, accomplishments, the specific Marquesan island the individual came from and their familial position.

Sailors on board the ships of Captain James Cook and other explorers from the West brought tattooing back with them, influenced by the designs they had seen on the inhabitants of these islands. These early tattoos, on the bodies of sailors, began the reintroduction of tattooing to the West.

Tattooing is still performed on the Marquesas Islands, though now performed with a tattoo machine rather than traditional methods.

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The Marquesan Dog or Marquesas Islands Dog is an extinct breed of dog from the Marquesas Islands. Similar to other strains of Polynesian dogs, it was introduced to the Marquesas by the ancestors of the Polynesian people during their migrations. Serving as a tribal totems and religious symbols, they were sometimes consumed as meat although less frequently than in other parts of the Pacific because of their scarcity. These native dogs are thought to have become extinct before the arrival of Europeans, who did not record their presence on the islands. Petroglyphic representations of dogs and the archaeological remains of dog bones and burials are the only evidence that the breed ever existed. Modern dog population on the island are the descendants of foreign breeds later reintroduced in the 19th century as companions for European settlers.

Rapa Nui tattooing

As in other Polynesian islands, Rapa Nui tattooing had a fundamentally spiritual connotation. In some cases the tattoos were considered a receptor for divine strength or mana. They were manifestations of the Rapa Nui culture. Priests, warriors and chiefs had more tattoos than the rest of the population, as a symbol of their hierarchy. Both men and women were tattooed to represent their social class.


  1. "Tattoo History Museum". Retrieved 2009-08-24.
  2. "Polynesian Tattoos Gallery and Article by Ink Done Right". Ink Done Right. Retrieved 2016-02-17.
  3. "Polynesian Tattoo Symbols & Meanings – Marquesan Cross". APolynesianTattoo. Archived from the original on 2016-02-17. Retrieved 2016-02-17.