Tattooing was an important part of Marquesan culture, and was practiced on both men and women. The art of tattooing dates back to the late 16th century on the islands.. Tattoos were seen as a way of displaying one's social status, and were often large and intricate.

Marquesan tattooing was the most extensive and aesthetically sophisticated in the Pacific. The Marquesans themselves became living works of art with their lavish tattoos, meticulous coiffures and beautifully crafted ornaments.

Nearly all adult Marquesans were adorned. The process of tattooing began in adolescence and continued throughout their lives. Women were less extensively tattooed than men. In fact, some older men were so extensively tattooed that their naturally light brown skins appeared almost black.

Like other art forms, the act of tattooing was sacred. Because the process was expensive and extremely painful, only a small portion would be tattooed in any given session.

The designs used in Marquesan tattoos were typically based on natural forms, such as animals, plants, and geometric shapes. They were often applied using a traditional method called "tatau," in which the ink was injected into the skin using a series of sharp, pointed instruments.

Following the conversion of the entire population to Catholicism by French missionaries, the practise was forbidden in 1884. As a conseqeunce, by the 1920s there was just one tattoo artist left on the island, and only around 125 individuals with tattoos.

It wasn't until the 1980s that the art of tattooing made a dramatic and welcome revival on the islands. Today, Marquesan tattoos continue to be popular, both in French Polynesia and around the world. Many people are drawn to the intricate designs and rich cultural history of these tattoos, which have become a symbol of Polynesian identity and pride.
Arts & Crafts