Tattooing in the Marshall Islands

Glossary Of Terms Used With Marshallese Tattooing

The following is a glossary of Marshallese terms used in conjunction with the tattooing ceremonies and the tattooing operation, its participants, locations, motifs and utensils.

addijokur back of a crab, used as a finger tattoo. (tattoo motif no30).
addilajju motif taken from the cone shell used as a finger tattoo (tattoo motif no14b).
Ael·¿laplap Atoll in the central (western) Ralik Chain of islands, traditional seat of the supreme chief of the Ralik Chain (common English spelling: Ailinglaplap).
âne-pi¿ Islet on Ael·¿laplap Atoll in the Ralik Chain, traditionally the main place for tattooing ceremonies.
anijjar "praying to the gods" (tattoo motif no12).
apar border of a mat or road.
ar Tattoo design.
atok Lesser royal rank, title commonly conferred as a reward for bravery in battle.
bad place for divination.
b·d (?) joined hexagons, said to represent the dermal plates of a turtle shell(tattoo motif no19).
b·d eo L·b·ll·¿ sign of the L·b·ll·¿ (tattoo motif no2).
Bokw·j (literally: to embrace) ornament zone on Marshallese mats.
Bunbun aur·k grown up and tattooed chiefly son.
b¨l boxfish.
bwilak tail end of the unicorn fish (tattoo motif no16a, 16b, 16c).
d¼nnin w·t "rain water" (tattoo motif no18).
deeleak fan tattoo motif no? (tattoo motif no16??).
elo¿wa "Duck's foot" shell (Lepas anserifera) (tattoo motif no5).
E·mo Ailinglaplap Islet.
eo (straight) line; (tattoo motif no20a).
eo Fish (either Pygoplites diacanthus[blue-banded angelfish] or Pterois volitans[lion fish]) seen as the ideal ornament a tattooist should strive for.
eo Tattooing (general term).
eo elap thick lines (tattoo motif no20b).
eo elap upper back band (ornament field, men's tattoo)
eo kadikdik tattoo like the woven ropeÍbelt (tattoo motif no31).
eo kat tattoo on side of chest (ornament field, men's tattoo)
eo oten-boro neck tattoo (ornament field, men's tattoo)
eodi, eo dim, eo din Tattoo (general term).
Eo¿·¿ Mejit Tract (meaning unclear).
Eower·k Mile tract ("land of the departed spirits").
Eom·l·¿ Ailinglaplap tract (meaning unclear).
Eom·n-m¼ Arno tract ("under the breadfruit tree").
Eomwe-la¿ Majuro tract ("under the sky").
eoon-m¼j face tattoo.
eoot striped or spotted as in ancient tattoos (modern term).
eooten-b·ro neck tattoo.
Eootle Likiep Islet ("south").
ibeiro row of dots (tattoo motif no10b).
Irooj laplap Title of paramount chief.
itt¨t lower chest triangle (ornament field, men's tattoo)
It¨t¨t (literally: intertwined) ornament zone on Marshallese mats.
jade to beat the tattooing chisel with the mallet
j¼lili zigzag tattoo motif no (tattoo motif no1?).
j¼pe wooden bowl used for final meal after completed tattoo.
jareo the group of women drumming and singing outside the tattooing house during the tattooing process.
jikin uwe (?) (tattoo motif no28).
Joor (literally: pillar or post) ornament zone on Marshallese mats.
joor in dilep "spine posts" (ornament field, men's tattoo)
joor in limoar "front posts" (ornament field, men's tattoo)
joor in limolik two "back posts" (ornament field, men's tattoo)
k¼boborok a zigzag motif (tattoo motif).
kabwijeran payment for the tattoo.
kabo¿ eon tattooing ceremony for children of chielfy rank.
k¼dikdik Tile slats, (tattoo motif no23b).
k¼laplap "Shape of a body" (tattoo motif).
ke dolphin motif. (tattoo motif no15a/15b).
kein k·m stick to pick breadfruit (tattoo motif no1).
kein k·m stick for picking breadfruit.
kiju central vertical ornament field (ornament field, men's tattoo)
kilin b¨l boxfish; skin of a boxfish (tattoo motif no17).
kinejo Scar tattoo (?).
k·do clouds, (tattoo motif no4a, 4b).
lijja (tattoo motif no3).
l¼rooj atoll or island reserved for food gathering, usually for a chief and his immediate family.
looj False albacore or kawakawa.
louj a fish with long fins.
L·lo (literally: to wreathe) ornament zone on Marshallese mats.
l·¿jak (tattoo motif no7).
looj bonito (tattoo motif no13).
lukwo arm tattoo ("bracelet") (ornament field, men's tattoo)
mad p··dpudi "spirally peeled sticks", (tattoo motif no22b, ).
m¼do net for cleaning arrowroot or soaking breadfruit (tattoo motif no6).
menin lob upper chest triangle (ornament field, men's tattoo)
m·k a fish, smaller than the k·pat surgeon fish.
mak needlefish Strongylura marina.
¿imak teeth of the mak fish (needlefish). (tattoo motif no14).
ninninkat (tattoo motif).
nit pit for sunken bird fighting enclosure.
··/e·· lion fish Pterois volitans.
·r grass skirt.
p¼d¼lijmaan "grass stalk on which flies sit" (tattoo motif no8).
pako shark's tooth (tattoo motif no21a, 21b).
raanke coconut grater used for final meal after completed tattoo.
ribwebwe sorcerer, magician.
rieo tattooist.
rij·ubwe sorcerer, magician.
roja¿pe arm tattoo ("bracelet") (ornament field, men's tattoo)
rolo¿jak chest tattoo (tattoo motif no9).
r¨b·b Holocanthus diancanthus.
Tiltil (literally: embroidery) ornament zone on Marshallese mats.
tiltil embroidery; spotted; dotted.
tokrak firehook (tattoo motif no11).
tokrak lower back field (ornament field, men's tattoo)
tokrak stick used to spread hot oven stones.
wajid single tattooed dot (tattoo motif no10a).
w¼loklik sacrifice food to the gods.
waurok shoulder tattoo (ornament field, men's tattoo)
wo eo back triangle (ornament field, men's tattoo)
wude stepped zigzag (tattoo motif no32).
wun (?) a fish scalemotif (tattoo motif no27).
wunne Leg tattoos (ornament field, men's tattoo)
w¨nne Leg tattoo (literally: thigh tattoo).

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (1998). Tattooing in the Marshall Islands Second edition. Albury:

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

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