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Marquesan Tattooing

Marquesan tattooing was among the most spectacular practices of the art form in Polynesia. In many Polynesian islands, tattooing was restricted to certain parts of the body—the legs and buttocks, the back, sometimes the face. But in the Marquesas, the entire body was often tattooed—even the eyelids, the tongue, and the palms of the hands. Discouraged by 19th-century missionaries, however, and ultimately forbidden by law, tattooing was no longer openly practiced in the Marquesas in the early 20th century

In 1920, Willowdean Handy traveled to the Marquesas with her husband, E. S. Craighill Handy, an anthropologist with the  Bayard Dominick Expedition. Although only a "volunteer," Willowdean wrote one of the most important of the Bayard Dominick Expedition's publications: a seminal study of Marquesan tattooing, including meticulous drawings of all the designs she could find. Today, her book is still used as a reference for modern tattoo artists in the Marquesas.

The illustration to the left, depicting a partially tattooed Marquesan warrior, was drawn by Emile LaSalle, an artist who visited the islands in the 1840s with the French explorer Dumont d'Urville. The drawings below are by Willowdean Handy, from her Tattooing in the Marquesas (Bishop Museum, 1922). 

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