Tuesday, August 31
Tattooing in the Cook Islands was one of the many things almost stamped out by the missionaries who regarded it as a pagan custom. It was discouraged from their arrival in the 1820s and eventually they persuaded chiefs to prohibit the practice in 1879.
The art of tattooing survived – just – until the 1990s when it suddenly became not only acceptable but desirable.
The South Pacific Festival of the Arts held in Rarotonga in 1992 certainly had a lot to do with this when tattooists from other islands demonstrated new designs and techniques.
Tattoos are now common for young men and women who want to show they are proud of their culture and traditions.
In the video Kroc Coulter is continuing a chest tattoo on Ian George. He’s assisted by Numa McKenzie as a ‘stretcher’ (stretching the skin to make sure the ink goes where it should).
Kroc’s tools are all hand-made of natural materials. The comb (of needles) on the tattoo adze is made from boars’ teeth, carved and flattened. A spatula is used to tap the adze to get the ink into the skin.
Actually the rat-a-tat-tat sound this makes is possibly where the word tattoo comes from. The local name for the art is ‘tatau’ which means to tap or drum.
You can hear this in the video.
The other tapping sound in the background is from women making tapa cloth. Apparently this is another practice discouraged by the missionaries who didn’t like the noise it made. They encouraged local women to take up patchwork instead and so tivaivai was born!