Tattooing in the Marshall Islands

Tattooing Utensils

For the creation of a pigment tattoo two main tools and a number of accessories were needed. The tools were the tattooing adze and the mallet which were used to deliver the pigment under the skin and to create the tattoo. A tailâfeather from a seabird was needed to draw the outline of the intricate tattoo, prior to the tattooing process. In addition, there were a receptacle for the pigment and a small mat, specially woven for the occasion to cover the head. [222] In detail, the tattooing utensils needed were:

Raw materials used

The tattooing chisel was made of bone, commonly a wing bone of an albatross or frigate bird, [248] -in the late 1870s-the femur of a domestic chicken. [249] Sometimes bundled fish spines were also utilised. The larger the diameter of the bone, the straighter the chisel could be. Oral traditions show that the Marshallese went to the northern atolls, where nesting seabirds were abundant, to collect birds. Eneen-Kio (Wake Island), the northernmost atoll of the Marshall Islands, was an especially favourite place to go. [250] Here the shortâtailed or Laysan albatross (Diomeda immutabilis, Family DIOMEDIDAE) bred [251] and could easily be caught, while it was largely an airbound visitor to the other atoll of the Marshall Islands and hence hard if not impossible to catch.

Figure 78. A Laysan Albatross.

Tattooing Utensils

In the Marshall Islands the use of human bones for tool manufacture is known ethnographically, though not for tattooing needles. [252] Tattooing chisels made from human bones, as part of ancestor worship and to foster clan cohesiveness are known from a large number of Pacific Island communities, [253] where ethnographic descriptions could be made before the Pacific culture had changed under the influence of Europeans.

Manufacture of tools

In order to manufacture the fine teeth of the chisel, a special file was used, made from a spine of a sea urchin (Acrocladia trigonaria), which had been ground flat into the form of a screw-driver head. [254]

[Next Page]      [Back to Table of Contents]

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.

select from the following...
World War II

Digital Micronesia-An Electronic Library & Archive is provided free of charge as an advertising-free information service for the world community. It is being maintained by Dirk HR Spennemann, Associate Professor in Cultural Heritage Management,Institute of Land, Water and Society and School of Environmental & Information Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia. The server space and technical support are provided by Charles Sturt University as part of its commitment to regional engagement. Environmental SciencesInformation Sciences

© Dirk Spennemann 1999– 2005
Marshall Islands Kosrae CNMI Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Guam Wake Pohnpei FSM Federated States of Micronesia Yap Chuuk Marshall Islands politics public health environment culture WWII history literature XXX Cultural Heritage Management Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences CNMI German Colonial Sources Mariana Islands Historic Preservation Spennemann Dirk Spennemann Dirk HR Spennemann Murray Time Louis Becke Jane Downing Downing