Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
Ornamentation and Tattooing
Ornamentation and Tattooing
The natives of today say that their ancestors wore their hair long and dressed it with lime to kill vermin. Wilkes (34) says the men at Atafu wore their hair 1 or 2 inches long all over the head and that many had “false curls tied on a string to be bound round the head.” He believed this ornamentation due to the fact that many men were inclined to baldness—a common characteristic today. The curls were worn in the front, and the hair was dressed with page 143 simple combs made of sections of coconut-leaf midribs bound at one end to a wooden cross piece. There was no custom of keeping certain locks uncut till marriage.
The ear lobes of all babies were perforated shortly after birth. The insertion of earrings of turtle shell or bone later in life was a matter of personal choice. Girls and women distended the ear lobes by inserting short flat sticks to stretch the opening. Larger sticks were put in week by week until the original perforation was 1 or 2 inches in diameter. It was common for older women to carry their mat-mending needles (susulu) twisted in the loops of their ear lobes.
The people have always used flowers and wreaths as their chief ornaments for any occasion. Young girls are constantly weaving wreaths of tiale or kanava blossoms. Everyone prepares some floral ornament of coconut leaves or vines for himself before all dances or feasts.
Formerly pearl-shell ornaments (lei) were worn by women and children, but were tapu to all men except the high chief. These ornaments were made in the shape of trolling hook shanks from the halves of mother-of-pearl shells unfit for use in fishhooks. Whales' teeth, cut into cylindrical sections (lei), were worn as necklaces or perforated and worn as pendants. These were the chief treasures of the people. Large pieces of shell also were ground into cylinder shape and worn as necklaces or bands across the forehead.
For festive occasions, adults rubbed the entire body with coconut oil until the skin glistened to attract attention to the beauty of the skin.
Tattooing, a conventional form of ornamentation, has disappeared since the advent of missionaries in Tokelau. Several missionary visitors in about 1870 remarked that they saw only one or two natives with any great amount of tattooing and that these stated their tattooing was much less than that practiced in pre-missionary days. The Tokelau people tattooed the face, upper arms, breast, waist, and sometimes the wrists and calves of the legs with a few lines and simple figures, but apparently did not tattoo the body from the waist to the knees as was common in Samoa, Uvea, Futuna, and Rotuma.
Both men and women were tattooed after marriage. The operator (tufunga ta tatau) drew the design on the skin with tattooing ink mixed from charred coconut and a little water. Then he placed the puncturing instrument (pakiau), made of a short stick with a set of fine teeth of turtle bone lashed at right angles at one end, over the design, and tapped deftly on the handle with another light stick.
The conventional facial tattooing for the men consisted of a band (sei) on each side of the face, extending from the juncture of the ear lobe and cheek toward the corner of the mouth (fig. 23, a). The bands were either a single line or a double line with a crisscross pattern between. Wilkes states page 144 that the line ran across cheek and nose. Some men had additional tattooing on their faces, either a long horizontal line of dots between the eyebrows or lines of arrows on the forehead and cheeks (fig. 23, b). According to Lister (14), a large triangle or fishlike figures were tattooed on the hips. Bands of the same pattern as those on the cheeks were tattooed from the small of the back, around the body, and upward to the chest, ending several inches apart. The upper arms and shoulders were tattooed with fish-shaped figures, rows of triangles with apexes pointing toward the body, and with spearheads and dots (fig. 23, e). Single and double lines were also made around the wrists, forearms, and ankles. Lister describes one man with a transverse band across the calf of each leg.
Figure 23.—Tattoo designs: a, man's facial tattooing of bands (sei) across cheeks and row of dots between eyebrows; breast tattooing of anthropomorphic and arrowhead figures representing dead children of the person; arm tattooing of triangular figures with apex pointing toward body (from Lister); b, man's facial tattooing of arrows, and breast tatooing of anthropomorphic and geometric figures (from Wilkes); c, woman's facial tattooing of teeth (nifo ika) around lips; d, tattooing (lupe) around waist of woman; e, designs of spearheads, dots and triangles on vertical line (from Wilkes).
Women were tattooed around the lips with a line of triangles like fish teeth (nifo ika), the base of which rested on the lip seam and, often, on the upper lip, extended to the septum of the nose (fig. 23, c). Lister states there were five teeth in each row. All women were tattooed with a band (lupe) below the waist line, commencing at the iliac crest and extending around the back just above the buttocks or sometimes converging from the sides into a point over the lower part of the sacrum (fig. 23, d). This band was covered by the leaf skirt (titi) and was never tattooed until the woman was married. Women had also two parallel lines (tau lima) tattoed around the wrist.
After the death of a member of the family, particularly a child, it was customary to have a “picture” of the dead person tattooed on the left side of the chest. Wilkes and Lister give sketches of these anthropomorphic figures with rectangular bodies and tiny heads, arms, and legs (fig. 23, a, b). At the time of Lister's visit the high chief had four such figures: one for the past king, one for a dead female relative, and two for dead children. He had also smaller triangular or geometric figures for children who had died at an early age.