Rapa Nui Tattoo
The Rapa Nui tattoo and body painting are artistic manifestations of the Rapa Nui culture. Like in other Polynesian islands, this art had a fundamentally spiritual connotation and in some cases the tattoos were considered a receptor for divine strength or mana. Priests and governors had many more tattoos than the rest of the population, as a symbol of their hierarchy, though both men and women were tattooed to represent their social class.
The tattooing process is performed with bone needles and combs called Uhi made out of bird, hen or fish bones. The ink was made out of natural products, primarily from the burning of Ti leaves and sugar cane.
The tattoos receive a name based on its location on the body:
• Rima kona: On the back of the hand or wrist.
• Retu: On the forehead.
• Matapea: Under the eyes.
• Pangaha’a: On the cheeks.
• Pare: On the arms.
• Humu: On the thighs and/or calves.
• Tu’u haino ino: On the back and buttocks.
The most common symbols represented were of the Make-Make god, Moais, Komari (the symbol of female fertility), the manutara, and other forms of birds, fish, turtles or figures from the Rongo Rongo tablets.
Federico Englert, in his book “The Land of Hotu Matu’a”, refers to the tattooing, also called Tatú or Tá kona, as a form of natural expression among the islanders, commonly seeing both adults and children with these paintings.
Nowadays, young people are bringing back Rapa Nui tattoos as an important part of their culture and local artists base their creations on the legacy of the island’s ancient civilization.
We emphasize Mokomae workshop for its commitment to rescuing and maintaining Rapa Nui’s traditions and culture.