Willowdean Chatterson Handy

Tattooing in the Marquesas

This definitive source on the intricate tattoos of Polynesia's Marquesas Islands offers a rare glimpse of a dying art. Because of the colonial authorities' 1884 ban on tattooing, there remained only a single surviving tattoo artist at the time of this 1921 survey—and a dwindling number of living examples. These 38 plates of black-and-white drawings and photographs provide an unusually complete and intimate record of a sophisticated art form.The Marquesas consist of a dozen rugged volcanic islands that lie 1,000 miles northeast of Tahiti. Rich in oral traditions, folklore, and decorative arts, their complex culture was devastated by the intrusions of outsiders during the nineteenth century. In the early 1920s, Hawaii's Bishop Museum sponsored an expedition to preserve what was left of the islanders' vanishing world. Willowdean Chatterson Handy, an expedition associate, created this priceless record of the ancient body art rituals. In addition to detailed information about tattoo methods and customs, Handy's account features fascinating insights into the designs' symbolic significance and their representation of social status. Her painstaking drawings of tattoo patterns are accompanied by captions that explain the traditional motifs.
105 printed pages
Original publication



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