Sailors and tattoos

Tattoos and sailors have gone together since explorers ships first encountered highly decorated residents of Pacific islands in the late 1700s, and brought the designs back home with them: marks of their journey and exotic encounters. the Marquesas are recognized as being among the oldest homes of this tradition. Traditionally, they were a mark of status, or power; identify family heritage, or mark an event.

Missionaries banned the practice (too much skin! sexual connotations!), and effectively killed it in many areas. The Marquesas stand out as one of the few places having a continuous practice: it was squelched, but never completely died out.

Getting inked was a popular activity for cruisers in the Marquesas. There was a local rock star (in the tattoo world, anyway) home on Nuku Hiva during our visit. Many beat a path to Bryce’s friendly door, and left with beautiful art.

Getting a tattoo wasn’t a foregone conclusion. I loved the idea,and wanted to mark the milestone, the accomplishment, of sailing across the Pacific- but didn’t just want to hop in the line. After much hemming and hawing, I couldn’t quite nail the “what” and  “where” – kind of important for something I expect to carry with me for the rest of my life! So for a while, I just enjoyed the artwork on friends, instead.

Ken’s modern hammerhead… worked with traditional icons

Mike’s awesome tiki. loved this. His wife Hyo has an amazing gecko on her arm, I need a picture!

Brian had traditional Marquesan motifs worked around an existing tattoo… neat.

Aha! The foot!

Can you spot the manta?


It was a few weeks later that it all came together for me, but by then our great Marquesan artist was a long distance upwind. I was ready, but the opportunity was gone! I couldn’t see having a Marquesan style tattoo done by anyone but a Polynesian.

How lucky then to meet Teuira in New Caledonia. From Tahiti, trained in France, we shared no common language but worked with pictures and some interpretation by his lovely girlfriend. This week is my tattooversiary! I love it, perhaps a little irrationally.

Thank you, Teuira. I’m so happy to carry this reminder with me.

A turtle (it’s there, trust me) in the center- marking my shellback status for sailing across the equator. Icons for my family, my husband, for protection and strength…for the waves of the Pacific.

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