Recently on a trip to New York City, I was able to stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and view one of their feature exhibitions. It is called “Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands.” This show is being staged from May 10, 2005 through January 15, 2006 in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing on the first floor of the museum. This is a collection of eighty artifacts from daily Marquesas life. Tools, household items, jewelry, and furniture are highlighted along with anthropological documentation and historian’s sketches.
The geometric art patterns created by the Marquesas were carved into every wooden item and tool they made, and almost identical designs were tattooed on their bodies. The men wore full body suits of monochrome geometric shapes and petroglyphs. This traditional tattooing is one of a number of tattoo traditions that has influenced the modern tribal tattoo styles.
I was especially taken with the display of traditional ear ornaments. Often carved of whale ivory, the earrings were all of a similar style. An enlarged plug was carved, worn in front of the ear, with a tusk-like protrusion that went through the ear. Often this part was carved to show little gods and goddesses. Some had small plugs and hefty tusk carvings, and others featured large disk-like plugs with simpler tusks. Both men and women had their ears pierced and wore this style of earring. Tribal leaders wore jewelry that was larger in size and more elaborate than other villagers.
A catalog of the show is available for those of you who can’t make it to New York via the museum's online store. I bought one after viewing the show twice during my day at the museum. The picture reproductions of the collected items are excellent and thoroughly cover the exhibition.
Tattoos from Paradise: Traditional Polynesian Patterns
by Mark Blackburn - 208 pp hardcover
With lots of images and history, Blackburn breaks down the umbrella term "Polynesian" into seven distinct cultural subgroups, and then explores the unique tattoo culture of each. Can you tell what is Hawaiian tattoos versus Tahitian ones? This volume also includes a lot of history and cultural context surrounding these ancient ritual tattoo practices. You can explore both the differences and similarities between the traditional tribal tattoo work found in New Zealand, Hawai’i, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, the Easter Islands and the Marquesas Islands.