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- "A man without tattoos is invisible to the Gods."
- –Iban Proverb
Tattooing is the art of creating indelible patterns in ink on the body of a person, carried to a high degree of sophistication and meaning among the Polynesians. The first reference to the word is from the British naturalist Joseph Banks aboard the Endeavor in 1769, and derives from the Polynesian word "tatau."
Polynesian tattooing was extensive, often covering large expanses of the body. Maori and Western Polynesian tattooing often included elaborate facial tattoos. Tattoos were often tied to social rank and status, with the most intricate and involved tattoos being reserved for chiefs and leaders. The designs were predominately geometric patterns of lines and were thought to have spiritual meaning for the bearer. The Polynesian process of tattooing involved tapping a wide, sharp comb made of sharpened boar’s teeth into the skin and a dye made of soot of burned lama nuts. Modern tattooing methods are considered the direct descendents of the Polynesian process for tattooing, with more sophisticated tools and absolutely no reduction in pain.
A young adult undergoing tattooing would have the process conducted over a number of sessions in a span of days. Men’s tattooing was generally more ritualized than women’s, and the subject could reject the tattoo or break off the session, though usually at the costs of significant social stigma.