The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.
In their tatooing the Ellice Islanders differed greatly, as the American Exploring Expedition remarked, from other branches of the Polynesian Race, both in their patterns and in the sharing of the custom by both sexes. As far as I can gather, the Micro-nesians, whose figures resemble more those of Funafuti, use short straight lines variously arranged in chevrons, diamonds, etc.,*whereas the tatooing of the Polynesians, at least as shown by the Maories, seems rather to have been disposed in curves, employing spirals, scrolls, and circles.† Again, among the Polynesians it was the rule to tatoo men profusely, women slightly or not at all; a rule reversed by the Melanesians.‡ In Funafuti both sexes were of old equally tatooed.
Tatooing has long been an extinct art on Funafuti, and I was unable to procure any of the implements used in it. Only half-a-dozen, old, white-haired men and women survive who are thus decorated.
Of the Funafuti men, one of whom he figured, Wilkes wrote:—" They were tatooed differently from any heretofore seen, their arms being covered, from the shoulder to the wrist, with small curved figures or zig-zag lines. They had this tatooing also on the body, extending from the armpits to the waist, and down, until the whole body was encompassed in the same manner. No marks were observed on the face or legs, but on two of them were a few lines across the small of the back." And of the Nukufetau men the same author continues:—"The tatooing was in great variety on the body, but in all, the arms were tatooed alike, for there it varied only in quantity. On the body it was frequently extended across the back and to the abdomen; and in many, the bodies and thighs were tatooed down as far as the knee. Many of the natives designated the figures as intended to represent pigeons." On the men of Atafu, the same traveller saw, "many marks resembling fish on the arms, and a sort of triangle, together with figures of turtles, on the breast." On Funafuti a native of Nanomea explained to me that certain tatoo marks on his arms represented Holothuria.
* For tatooing of the Caroline Islanders see Kubary—Journ. Godeffroy Museum, vii., 1875, p. 129; for the Marshalls, Kotezbue—Voyage of Discovery, ii., 1821, plate facing p. 63; for the Gilberts, Wilkes—op. cit., v., p. 77; for Rarotonga, Williams—Native Missionary Enterprises, 1837, p. 503.
† Robley—Moko, or Maori tatooing, 1896.
‡ Turner—Samoa., 1884, p. 55.
All I could learn of the manner of tatooting on Funafuti was that it was performed with a sharpened bird-bone tapped into the skin with a mallet; the pigment used was Hernandia nut reduced to charcoal, ground, and mixed with water. Except the pigment, it is probable that the mode of tatooing differed little from that in general use throughout the Pacific. The instruments and their use are thus described by a surgeon who endured a tatooing in the Marquesas:—"Eight or ten candlenuts are strung on a piece of reed, which is stuck in the ground, the upper one being lighted. An inverted section of a coconut is suspended over it. This condenses the smoke, which is very black, and when mixed with a little water, forms the marking-ink. The marginal lines of any figure are first marked out with a very small stick, the remainder is executed without a guide. The instruments for inserting the colouring matter into the skin are made of pieces of bone made flat, and serrated at one end, like either a comb or saw. The breadth of this end differs from the eighth of an inch to one inch, according to variety or minuteness of work, some having only two teeth, some a dozen. The other end is brought to a blunt point, and inserted at right angles into a small cane about six or eight inches long. The piece of cane is held between the finger and thumb of the left hand. The stick for beating this into the flesh is long or short, according to the fancy of the operator. The hitting of the stick is so very rapid that it resembles nothing that I know of more accurately than a trunk maker driving his nails."*
The original pigment of the Polynesian seems to have been the soot of the candlenut fruit, Aleurites triloba; where the race wandered beyond the habitat of that tree, substitutes had to be found. In Funafuti Hernandia was used, and in New Zealand, Robley tells us that Dammara gum, Podocarpus, Veronica, and the vegetable caterpillar Cordiceps larvarum were employed.
In Funafuti both men and women were tatooed with the same pattern, which was peculiar to the atoll, and distinguished them from other islanders.
* Coulter—Adventures in the Pacific, 1845, p. 210. The operation is also described by Pritchard—Polynesian Reminiscences, p. 143; by Turner—Samoa, p. 88; by Polack—Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders, ii., 1840, pp. 42-51; by Robley—Moko, 1896, p. 56; by Guppy—Solomon Islands, 1887, p. 135; by Buckland—Journ. Anthrop. Inst., xvii., 1888, p. 318.