Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tatatau Ma 'ae Kakai Fefine - Women's Tattooing

Women's Tattoo
I've had a number of requests about women's tattooing tradition in Tonga. I've been researching and looking through old books trying to gather as much info on the subject.

So let's start with the basics. Women were tattooed in Tonga before the entire practice of tattooing was outlawed. The extent of tattooing women in Tonga is not known entirely because not much was ever written. But here's what is known:

  • Women often received ornamental tattoos around their fingers, hands, and wrists. These were often done for aesthetics and for helping to cure ailments such as types of arthritis and other joint pains.
  • Women were also known to receive markings along their shoulder area and across the lower back. These were also decorative and some sketches resembled strands of maile and other kakala fakatonga or Tongan plants that represented the ultimate forms of beauty.
  • Anecdotally, my mother told me a story of a woman in Tonga named Mele Tatafu who had an extensive tattoo across her back. As told by my mom, she was hanging laundry with Mele one day when her tupenu slipped revealing a large and intricate tattoo that covered her back and extending further down towards her butt. My mom being young couldn't recall the designs but also sensed that Mele was not wanting to talk about it. From my mom's vague recollection, she said that it was very intricate with many block like prints and makohikohi or scratch like patterns.
I will be writing more on this subject soon as I look through and compile more info. If you have your own stories and want to share, please feel free to share them and I will post it.